Ashley Tries to Write About Singleness Without Coming Across As Whiny or Delusional

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As a perpetually single Christian woman, I’ve read a lot of blog posts on singleness.  I don’t seek them out.  They mysteriously appear on my Facebook wall.  Who knows where they come from originally, but they end up in my feed, like dust bunnies under a couch.  They have titles like “How the Church Fails Singles” or “37 Things Never To Say To Single People” or “Singleness and Contentment” or “Using Your Singleness” or things like that.  I usually read through them, but none of them really captured my attention.  Probably because all of them were so SERIOUS.  I’ve been putting off writing The Dreaded Singleness Post since I started this blog, but it’s time.  The Time Is Now.  My target audience is post-college single women in the 25-45 age range, but please, stick around.

I’m 30 and haven’t been asked out on a date since I started my job, and I’ve had my job for about 6 years now. Not that I think my job has anything to do with it.  I just tell time by landmarks. I don’t remember specific years when things happen.  Now, I don’t really know why I haven’t been asked out.  In my lower moments, I can think of all sorts of reasons why guys wouldn’t be interested in getting to know me.  Maybe I don’t talk enough.  Maybe I’m uninteresting.  Maybe I don’t seem interested.  Maybe I seem too independent.  Maybe I can’t cook.  Maybe I’m not attractive.  Maybe I’m mean without realizing it. Maybe it’s because I’m either overdressed or I look like one of the Lost Boys fro Hook.  Maybe it’s because my eyebrows are constantly trying to take over my face.

Let me exhort you not to fall down that rabbit hole.  If you have a specific concern, ask your family or a close friend in honesty and humility.  “Am I careless with my words?  Do I hurt people?”  Don’t ask yourself.  If you are asking the question, you either you don’t know the answer or you are ignoring the answer.  So stop asking yourself questions that you don’t know the answer to and move on to something else!

Have you ever auditioned for anything?  It’s a vulnerable, nerve-wracking, competitive experience, because you have to stand up on your own and perform to a room full of people who are there to judge you.  Sometimes the cast list comes out and your name isn’t on it.  The best advice I ever received about auditioning: Don’t try to figure out why you didn’t get the role.  That’s a fast way to go mad or get bitter.  Either you blame yourself and start obsessing about what you could have done differently, or you blame your competition.  Either way, you can start thinking “I didn’t get it because I didn’t have enough breath control for that low note.” “I should have had more confidence coming in.  “I’m too ugly for that role.” “She only got the role because she’s blonde – typical.” “Why did SHE get the role? My audition was so much better.”  DON’T DO IT.  The same thing applies to unwanted singleness.  If you like a guy and he starts dating your best friend, how do you respond?  It’s ridiculously easy to automatically blame your friend or blame yourself or blame the guy you liked.  DON’T DO IT.

But like I said, those are the low moments.  Most of the time, I’m happy and fine and enjoying life.  But I do run into some hilarious singleness problems.  Like people being concerned about me and offering me advice and comfort.  It’s amazing how uncomfortable comforting can be sometimes.  This is where all those “37 Things Never To Say To Singles” posts come from.  But OH COME ON.  How pretentious would it be to walk up with a scroll, dramatically unfurl it, and announce All The Thinges Which Maye Not Be Uttered In My Presence.  That’s what those posts are like.  Are people always going to say the right thing?  No.  Will they always be sensitive to the issue you’re handling right now?  Nope.  When people try to comfort you and do it clumsily, recognize their intention.  Remember all the times that you clumsily tried to comfort a friend.

I have a little collection of singleness sayings at this point. One of my personal favorites: “Don’t worry, it’ll happen when you least expect it.” At this point, I don’t know how I can expect it any less.  But the winner of the most uncomfortable (and unintentionally hilarious) comforting was a lady who came up to me at my Grandaddy’s funeral. Here’s the scene – I’m in the receiving line and a kind stranger comes up to me and starts this gem of a conversation:

Lady: “Do you have kids?”

Me: “No, I don’t have kids.”

Lady: “But you have a husband, right?”

Me: “No.”

Lady (patting my hand): “Aww. It’s still just you and Jesus.” (Lady walks away, while I struggle to keep a straight face during all of this, because this was at a FUNERAL.)

Enough concerned people have asked me if I had tried online dating that I eventually joined OKCupid.  There were a few reasons for this.  Reason 1)  If I tried it, I could just say “Yes. I have tried online dating” and quickly switch to a more interesting subject.  Reason 2)  It was free. 3)  I’ve heard some success stories from OKCupid, so I was interested to see what it was like.

I think the main thing that drove me nuts about it was the inefficiency of the process.  Inefficiency is fine when there is warmth and personality and kindness.  Greece is inefficient, but if there’s blue ocean and delicious food, I don’t care how inefficient it is. But the deadly combo of inefficient AND impersonal eventually made me put the online dating account on ice. If I wanted inefficient and impersonal, I could run down to the DMV or get called involved in some other tedious bureaucratic process.  In my opinion, trying to meet somebody shouldn’t feel like a part time job.  What happened to the original matchmaking services, dinner parties and dances?  I like those.  If nothing came out of the dinner party, at least you got dinner.  If nothing came out of the dance, at least you got to get dressed up and see all your friends.  If nothing comes out of online dating, you’re just home in your pajamas, clicking through photos of strangers, probably holding a glass of white wine.  No wonder we feel isolated sometimes.  Real people are more fun than the ideas of people.

I want Amazon or Netflix to start an online dating service. Sure, it would be icy and impersonal and probably run by evil masterminds, but at least it would be highly efficient. Netflix wouldn’t even need me to fill out a profile – they already know too much about me. They know that on emotional days, I either want to watch Disney movies or the category they have labeled as Emotional East Asian Dramedies.  If dating comes down to algorithms, I want a service with the very finest algorithms.  Amazon’s dating service would come with reviews for each person.  That would drastically simplify the process.

Truth be told, I am picky. Evidence to this fact: I’m 30 and oh so very single.  But I’ve waited this long, so why should I settle NOW?  It seems like bad timing.  I’m holding out for great.  I’m not planning on lowering my standards.  If anything, my standards have gotten higher.

Okay, now I’m going to say some things that I should probably Never Say To Singles, but rest assured, everything I’m going to say to you, I’ve already had to preach to myself.

  1. STOP COMPLAINING THAT ADULTING IS HARD.  Also, we need to stop using the word Adulting.  Sure it’s hard.  It’s real life.  But you’re a real adult, so stop pretending that you’re still a child trying to do adulty things.  You’re an adult doing what you have to do and have every capability of doing.  Do you want to be treated like an adult? Act like one. Commit to things. Don’t have one foot out the door.  As a single person, it’s easy to sit at the kid’s table for a lot longer.  My younger sister feels more like an adult than I am, because she has a husband, three kids, and a household that she has to run.  But that’s a feeling.  The truth is that I’m just as much of an adult, but it’s easier to not see myself that way.  It’s time to put down roots and start building my own household.  If I’m building that household on my own right now, that’s not a problem.

2. GIVE UP THE HYPOTHETICAL TIMELINE AND LIVE IN THE REAL ONE.  It’s easy to sigh and think, “When I was in college, I assumed I’d be married and have kids by this point.”  That’s a hypothetical timeline, but it feels more real the more you dwell on it.  This feeds into a particular smart girl problem of being terrified of falling behind or failing.  Sometimes it feels like I fell behind a long time ago and now I’ll never catch up.  It’s not a race.  Don’t feed the fake timeline.  Give up your disappointment.  Give up the fake competition.  This is the real timeline. Live in it and love it.

3. MAKE GOOD FRIENDS.  If I could have one thing written on my tombstone, I’d want it to be Good Friend.  Cultivate your existing friendships and always be open to new ones.  This probably seems like a no-brainer, but be a good friend to your family.  Sometimes it’s easy to ignore that aspect of family, but being friends with your siblings and your parents is one of the best things in the world.  Spend the time and really invest in people.  Let your focus be external, rather than internal.  Focus less on being interesting to other people and focus more on being truly interested in other people.

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4.  BECOME ADMIRABLE.  Keep learning.  Keep improving.  Become an intimidating force of nature.  Do the hard things that you have to do and don’t complain about it.  I find it so easy to complain.  Way too easy.  I don’t want to be a wimp or a whiner.  If an amazing man does come along someday, I want to be standing on my two feet and carrying out a plan, because that’s what I’d expect from him.

5.  USE WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN.  A couple days ago, I was reading The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25.  It’s one of the hardest parables for me to read.  “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, there you have what is yours.” (Matthew 24:24-25)  I don’t know about you, but it’s very easy to me to feel sorry for that man with one talent, but that is because he uses the same excuse that I do.  LORD, I WAS AFRAID.  I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANTED ME TO DO.  WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?  The answer is anything except nothing.  It doesn’t have to be complicated.  If he had put the talent in the bank, he would have at least earned interest on it.  Don’t be afraid, because fear only paralyzes.  Use whatever you have been given.

Love isn’t a feeling.  It’s something that you do.  Don’t sit and wait for love.  Don’t bury it in the ground.  Don’t be afraid.  Love God and love your neighbor.  That’s it.  That’s what we’re told to do.  Loving other people does not require any other person giving love to you.  God has already given you all His love.  More than enough for you to give away every second of every day for as long as you last.  Don’t be afraid.

So whatever I go for this year, I want to go full out.  If it doesn’t work out, that’s okay.  I want to do anything except nothing.  I want to invest in people and build up my friendships.  I want to put down roots and not be afraid that it’s the wrong thing.  It’s not the wrong thing.  The wrong thing would be to bury what I’ve been given in the ground.

To all my single ladies, my amazing friends:  I love you so much.  You’re like those classic actresses in black and white movies – fierce, funny, witty, compassionate, intelligent, and beautiful.  Most people don’t think they make women like that anymore, but I know that’s not true, because I know my friends.  I’m telling you that you are all worth getting to know and it’s my privilege to know all of you.  Are you intimidating?  Absolutely.  Please don’t lower your standards.  You don’t need to settle for mediocre.  You deserve legendary.

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Ashley Tries Doing Her Own Hair and Ponders Gift Giving

This week has been a departure from my standard Ashley Tries format.  I did try to do my hair a different way every day, but that really wasn’t anything to write home about.  I’m still really bad at doing hair.  The main thing I learned was that I had to decide the night before that I was going to try to do something different, so I was mentally prepared to try something new the next morning.  The first day was the highlight – I tried that I’m-a-millennial-so-I-don’t-curl-the-ends-of-my-hair hair and that worked out pretty nicely.  I also tried to put together my best millennial outfit and break out the instagram pose, just for consistency’s sake.
The only problem with having a win early in the week was that it lulled me into a false sense of security.  Tuesday I tried to do a french braid.  WHY?  I never learned how to do a french braid and I have very little dexterity when I’m trying to knot hair on the back of my own head.  I didn’t have Sara get a picture of back of my head, because I didn’t even want to know what it looked like.  This picture was taken an hour or so after I twisted my hair into what I hoped looked like a braid and it was already falling out.  Fortunately, I was wearing a turtleneck and pumps to prove that I am in fact an adult and a professional.  I wore red lipstick to try to salvage the hair and face situation, but my hat is off to those women who can somehow knit together a masterpiece on the back of their own head.
By Friday, I had definitely run out of ideas, so I went with a ponytail.  I realized that I use clothes as way to control things that I’m not great at.  Mainly hair.  “Well, my hair is kind of boring, but I’ve got a red shirt on.”  “My hair is mess, but I WILL DISTRACT YOU WITH MY BLAZER.”  And it works.  People assume that I’m a put-together person most of the time.  I’m really not.  I have a million ideas sleeting through my head and a stubborn streak, but discipline doesn’t come easily to me.  But if a blazer makes people think that I’ve got it all together, you’d better believe I’m going to wear that blazer.
The main thing I focused on this week was creating gift guides and thinking about presents!  I love Christmas and I especially love the tradition of gift giving.  The only reason I object to the idea of Santa is that sometimes he’s used as a works righteousness threat.  (Be good or Santa won’t bring you any presents!)  NO.  The whole point of Christmas is that God gave us everything when we least deserved it.  This world was a planet of Grinches and Scrooges and we deserved worse than nothing.  Then God sent His Son and saved us.  He gave us everything.
When we give, we give ourselves.  Love who you give presents to and love what you give.  Watching kids open Christmas presents is the absolute best.  They haven’t gotten to the stage where they don’t know what they want.  They ask for what they want and when they unwrap the thing they really want, there is pure joy.  Adults are trickier to shop for and sometimes we just need some inspiration.  So I made a few themed gift guides to help get your giving going!
Gift Guide: Geek/Nerd/Fan
 
Gift Guide: Organized vs. Crazy
A few parting thoughts about giving fun presents:
  • Figure out a budget for presents and stick with it, so that your giving isn’t grudging or tinged with guilt.  Antique stores and consignment stores and thrift stores are great places to look for inexpensive presents with a lot of personality.
  • Some people get very burdened by physical possessions.  If you’re trying to figure out a present for somebody who already has too much stuff, give them a gift card to a coffee shop and plan a time to hang out together, or buy them a movie pass and plan a movie night together.
  • Food is a great present.  I adore food presents.  I’m a farmer’s daughter and one amazing thing about farmers is that they give what they grow.  It’s so personal and wonderful.  Growing up, the other farmers would give us tangerines and oranges and almonds and pistachios.  They didn’t grow chocolate, but they also gave us a lot of chocolate and it was the BEST EVER.
  • Don’t shy away from practical presents.  The older I get, the more I appreciate nice socks in my stocking.  I wear socks all the time and nice socks are such a delight!  I was given a little pocket knife one year and that was fantastic.  But I lost it somewhere along the way and I am living a knifeless life.   I should ask for a little Swiss Army Knife for my stocking!
  • Give music!  I signed up for Pandora Plus (because I got sick of listening to ads) and I love it.
  • Give presents that foster a sense of adventure – if they want to travel to Iceland, give them a travel guide to Iceland!  Give them a map of hiking trails in your area.  Give them trail mix and a compass.  Give them a globe.  I loved our globe growing up.

The main thing is to just love your people and give out of gratitude.  Start Christmas off right by having a happy heart!

Ashley Tries 30!

I turned 30 this Monday.  I’ve successfully made it from October 1987 to October 2017.  YAY!  It’s good so far.  I like it.

I didn’t have a clothing theme this week – I thought I’d do a list of things I’ve learned, things I’m grateful for, and things I want to do by next October!

1. First of all, I’m grateful for everyone who reads this blog!  I started it in July 2016 and I still get intimidated every time I write a post and send it off into the ether.  You have been such an encouragement to me and I hope I’m an encouragement to you as well!

2.  I learned this a while ago, but it’s been steadily reinforced throughout this past year:  we are our own worst critics.  Most of us don’t have an arch-nemesis whose only goal is to ruin our day in subtle ways.  We don’t outsource that job, because we do it ourselves.  The best plan is just to confess our sins and move on.  Be happy and don’t ruin your own life.  (By the way, I’m really good at ruining my own day.  It’s easy to do.)

3.  I love colors.  Bright colors make life happier.  Dark colors make life richer.  But of all the colors, red is the most important to me.  When I wear red, it is because I decided that I needed some red in my life that day.  It’s intentional and important.  Red lipstick, a red top, a pair of red shoes that I used to wear when I had to speak in public…. What color makes your day?

4.  I’m scared of writing.  I’ve learned that every week for a year now.  I’m scared NOW.  But I also know that being scared isn’t a good reason for doing something good.  So if you know something is good and part of you wants to do it and part of you seizes up in terror just thinking about it, you should probably do it.

5.  I’m grateful to my friends Sara and Lindsey, who have been my photographers in this venture.  We’ve had a lot of two-minute photo shoots since I started my Ashley Tries series and I can’t thank them enough, because I’m bad at face selfies and mirror selfies or any kind of selfies, really….

6.  Over this coming year, I’d love to get better at alterations.  My mom is bringing up my little sewing machine within the month, so I’ll be able to give it a try.  I fully expect to be bad at it, but I want to work on it, because I’ll have to hem trousers all my life.  My legs are super short.

7.  Building on that thought, to the short women of the world – there are ways to work with your proportions.  Even for a short person, my legs are proportionally short.  I have to hem petite trousers.  I sometimes wear capris and just call them ankle jeans.  If you ever have specific questions about what works and what doesn’t, ask away.  Odds are good that I’ve had to deal with the same clothing problems you are having!

8.  If you worry about what people think about what you’re wearing, remember that most people like it when OTHER people make bold fashion decisions.  Whenever I wear a hat, I hear this multiple times during the day – “I love hats!  I can’t wear them, but you look so cute in it!”  There are lots of different kinds of hats.  There’s probably a hat shape that suits you, so give it a try!  (The same principle goes for anything that’s out of your comfort zone.)

9.  It’s easy to make clothes a scapegoat.  If you are unsatisfied with yourself and your life and how you look, clothes will constantly be a problem.  If clothes NEVER work, that’s probably a sign of something deeper.

10.  Building on that last one, it’s hard to be content if you constantly compare yourself to other people and how they look.  We don’t even have to know these people.  Some of them are strangers, walking blithely through the carefully landscaped gardens of Instagram and Pinterest.

11.  Speaking of Pinterest, I don’t like millennial pink.  I’ve arrived at that conclusion and I’m okay with it.

12.  One of my biggest fears is fading into the background and disappearing.  And nobody noticing.  On the flip side, what I want most is to have somebody look at me and really see me.

13.  Smiles are beautiful.  They are like the sunrise.

14.  I want to sing Romeo and Juliet with Mark Knopfler this coming year.  Just want to put that out there.  I don’t know how that would work, but I REALLY WANT TO.

15.  The days when I want to give up are the most important days not to give up on.

16.  My favorite Ashley Tries series was the week that I got to try out fandom dressing with Sara.  That week made me so very happy.  Here are a few highlights!

Princess Leia:

Princess Nausicaa:

Miss Frizzle:

Agent Peggy Carter:

17.  If you are going through a rough time, use it.  Use it as a reminder to encourage others.  Use it to sharpen your mind and focus your walk with the Lord.  Use it as a opportunity to change.  Hard times are when growth happens.

18.  Singing can get me out of a deep blue funk faster than anything else can.

19.  I probably have too many dresses.

20.  In the immediate future, I will consign some of my dresses.

21.  Women are beautiful.  I’m surrounded by beautiful women.  A lot of times, women don’t see how beautiful they are, but I’m here to say, “Ladies, you are gorgeous.  No lie.”

22.  I’ve loved my trips this year!  Mexico in February and France and Switzerland in September.  I love traveling – I always come back a different person than when I left.

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23.  I have never decorated my own house before, but I’m going to be moving into a place of my own soon and I get to DECORATE HOWEVER I WANT.  I’m scared, but also excited!

24.  One of the past year’s goals was to get better at talking to people.  I think it’s kind of working.  It’s a work in progress.  Being awkward is awkward, everybody.  I want to be un-awkward.  So I’m working on it.  Remember, embarrassment is entirely your own reaction to something, so you can choose not to be embarrassed.  In some situations, it’s really hard to decide not to get embarrassed, but it can be done.

25.  I am thinking about dressing up as Static Cling for Halloween.

26.  Keep sending questions – I want to answer all your questions this year!  This especially applies to the ones that you think are strange to ask.  I love random questions.

27.  Sample question:  “Ashley, how might one properly wear food prints?”

28.  Remember not to take clothes too seriously – they’re here to work for you, not the other way around.  You’re the boss of your clothes.

29.  This year, I want to get better at cooking.  And playing an E chord on the ukulele.  And keeping a plant alive.  And having people over to eat popcorn and drink tea and do artwork.  And talking to people (work in progress).  And blogging.  I want to get better at living.

30.  This has been a great year.  I’ve had my rough patches, but overall, it’s been stellar.  Thanks for making it so.  You are all great.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

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Ashley Tries to Look Pretty Without Feeling Pretty

To be blunt, I didn’t feel pretty at all this week and the last thing I wanted was photographic evidence of each day.  It was one of those weeks.  I don’t know what brings it on.  My brain recognizes that I look exactly the same as last week, but my emotions seem to be taking snapshots and then applying a filter called Hideous.  Most of the time, my face doesn’t bother me, my hair doesn’t bother me, my body shape doesn’t bother me.  Hardly anything bothers me.  Then a week will come along and everything bothers me.

I recognize that I’m blessed – most of the time, I do feel pretty.  A lot of women wish they felt pretty most of the time, but they don’t.  Their emotions have the Hideous filter as the default setting.  If that is the case for anybody reading this, let me tell you this:  you are more beautiful than you think you are.  I guarantee it.

One thing I noticed this week was that I started getting defensive about other attributes, maybe in subconscious fear that I would start losing them as well.  “Well, at least I’m good at my job.” “Well, at least I can sing.”  “Well, at least I can draw.”  These things are real blessings.  Doing my job and singing songs and drawing made me happy this week.  The problem was the attitude I had toward the.  The attitude actually made them less happy, because I felt like I needed them.  The bad part was the “Well, at least…” part.  The unspoken (but implied) beginning of the thought was “Well, [I’M NOT PRETTY, BUT] at least….”

I have a pep talk I give myself in moments like this: “STOP IT, ASHLEY.”  That’s the whole speech.  And then I pray.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat as many times as it happens.  Don’t let it get normal.  Don’t let it get deep inside of you.  Don’t let your emotions dictate your actions.

Here’s a good test to see if your perspective is warped – how do you handle input from other people?  How do you handle compliments?  If your feelings have taken over, you can’t accept input.  There isn’t room for another opinion.  Don’t dismiss other people’s opinions.  If somebody tells you that you look nice, don’t assume they are lying.  If you have trustworthy people around you, why would they suddenly become liars when they talk about you?  If you assume every compliment that comes your way is a lie, then your perspective is warped.  Don’t turn your family and friends into liars.  What if they try to tell you something important and you have gotten into the habit of dismissing what they say?  The issue is not whether or not you feel pretty.  It’s how you handle your emotions.

There’s also the problem of appearance vs. reality.  I can come across as confident and easy breezy, but I’ve gotten pretty good at projecting it even when I’m not feeling it.  I’ve been posting pictures all week that I see no beauty in, but nobody else notices a change.  To be completely honest, I post pictures throughout the week to keep myself accountable to actually write this weekly blog post.  Writing is really hard for me.  Staying disciplined and consistent is REALLY hard for me.  This blog combines both of those things.  I want to quit every week.  But I know it’s a good thing and I’ve been deeply humbled by everybody’s responses to it.  I’m grateful for all of you – everybody who asks what I’m doing for Ashley Tries this week, everybody who trusts me to tackle a specific fashion problem, everybody who asks advice.  Thanks for trusting me to write this thing – you trust me more than I trust me.  Pretty sure it’s been a year since I started and YAY I HAVEN’T QUIT.  That’s pretty darn exciting to me.

Phew.  Keeping secrets is my default.  Telling them to the Interwebs?  Yet another thing I’m uncomfortable with.  But what’s the use of having a bad week if I don’t use it to help encourage other people who are having rough weeks?  I want to help.  If you need advice or encouragement, message me and I’ll try to help best I can.


Day 1

This week was all about choosing things that made me happy, since I was fighting the blues.  I like this shirt – it is soft, has some cool design details, and best of all – it isn’t sheer!  I don’t like shirts that I need to wear another shirt under.  It’s summer!  I can’t go around wearing two shirts all the time!  A pair of comfy jeans.

A couple new things in this outfit!  New shoes that I am breaking in for a trip in September.  I’m really pleased with them – they are comfortable, good quality, and pretty enough to transition between walking all day and going to restaurant at night.  The other new thing is trying out a patterned headscarf.  I like this one – the burgundy base color blends in with my hair a little bit and the abstract print looks good even when it’s all scrunched up.  It’s great for those days when you wake up feeling like a bird must have nested in your hair during the night, and that’s exactly how I felt that day, so it was convenient.

Day 2

This is the other pair of shoes I’m breaking in for my trip and they are 95% great, but they rub at one very specific point on each foot, so they drew first blood around the end of the work day.  Everything else about them is great, so I’ll just buy a couple of those little gel pads, put them over the tiny blood stains, then I’m good to go.  Ha.

It was a hot day, so I just put on a loose dress and headed out the door.  I love a swingy dress during the summer, because everything that has direct contact with my skin gets sweaty.  This dress doesn’t end the day with a spreading sweat patch in the lower back, so it’s kind of a winner.  It’s comfy and it has great texture and color – what’s not to love?

Over lunch, I sat and sketched.  If there are two things that can get me out of myself and my own thoughts, it’s singing and sketching.  I’ve been sketching women and clothes since I was four or so.  The earliest drawings I remember doing are a queen wearing cowboy boots and a glamorous lady with hair over one eye (because when I was little, glamour = a beautiful woman with blond hair over one eye).  I didn’t know who Veronica Lake was at that point, but it was very Veronica Lake.  These sketches aren’t like the rest of my art – they aren’t really based on anything and they are all different.  They are littered all over my room and scattered through my life and I don’t even think about them, but I’m really grateful for them.  Art helped me out of my funk this week.

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Another great thing happened to me on Tuesday – I learned how to do eyeshadow.  Last week, my friend Lizze (who is a rep for Mary Kay) came up and asked me if I wanted to learn how to do makeup, since a substantial subplot of this blog is that I can’t do makeup or hair.

So on Tuesday, we met up and she patiently took me through how to put eyeshadow on my face and how to make it stay on my face.  Shout out to Lizze, because I was comically ignorant to basic makeup techniques (what’s primer? but how do you use an eyebrow comb?  is the eyeshadow symmetrical now?).  I kept freaking out about how dark the eyeshadow was and then it turned out looking completely fine.  It was great to learn something new.  I’ve been putting eyeshadow the same way for years and it’s the way I saw on the back of an eyeshadow package.  As it turns out, the way I’ve been doing it just made my eyeshadow disappear, because I put the darkest color only on the crease and when I opened my eyes, it vanished.

The biggest takeaways for me:  Don’t freak out about how dark the eyeshadow looks right when you’re putting it on.  You are very close to the mirror and it looks more dramatic than it actually is, and once you put on mascara and step back from the mirror, the look will come together.  (Put on mascara and step away from the mirror is probably good advice for all of life, really….)  Application tips for those of us with hooded eyes / monolids – put on your eyeshadow with your eyes open and put the brightest color above the crease.  That way, you can see what the finished product will look like and the crease won’t eat your pretty shadow.  Highlights go right under the eyebrow and right above the eyelashes.  Voila!  This is how it turned out.  (Thanks, Lizze!)

It was so great to learn more about makeup.  I should have somebody teach me how to do my own hair.  *gasp*


Day 3

This was my “I’m going to try to apply what I learned yesterday in the presence of a professional makeup artist and try to make it work in my real life with my actual makeup”.  It went pretty well, considering.  Eye makeup?  CHECK.

Flip flops (because I had blisters from the day before), jeans, a bright pink tee.  To add a little bit of visual interest and elevate the outfit a bit, I layered a white lace shirt over the top.  That way I had glimpses of bright pink, but I wasn’t all pink.  It would have been a lot (especially with bright purple eyeshadow).  I went for bright colors, because the blues just kept coming this week and I needed to keep fighting them.

Day 4

I needed to keep on pushing and keep on trying this week, because I woke up every morning ready to give up.  THE DAY HADN’T EVEN STARTED YET.  That’s unacceptable.  I needed an extra challenge by Thursday and something else to think about, so I chose a skirt that I find challenging to wear.  It’s a pleated navy-and-cream J. Crew number that was a steal at $10, but it’s a little fancy/fussy.  Paired it with a floral top that went with (but didn’t match) the navy in the skirt.

Did the eyeshadows fairly successfully.  Hurrah!

Wore the first pair of shoes again, because blisters ain’t the boss of me.  These shoes are proving to be very versatile.  Hurrah!

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Did some art on Thursday night and it turned out so much better than I had hoped!  Used oil pastels to draw the cover of The Little Prince on black paper and I thought about stopping at the black and white stage, because I was afraid of messing up a perfectly good concept with colors.  But I’m really glad I added in the colors.  Art is good for me.  It’s an area where I know I have to push myself and if I mess up, there’s always another piece of paper.  Messing up is part of it and it isn’t permanent.  Keep pushing until it’s done.  Don’t stop halfway through.

Day 5

By Friday, I was so ready to be done with the week.  So tired of my hair, my face, my body, my little blistered feet.  But I had things to do, places to be.  Got out of bed.  Pulled out a dress that I used to wear all the time, but haven’t worn in a while (mainly because there’s a big old stain on the front).  I positioned the belt over the stain and zoomed to work.  This has been a really big week at work, which has been a hard blessing.  I obviously needed to be pushed to my limit this week.  Beyond my limit.  Beyond the safe black and white sketch, into the risk and beauty of bright colors.  Beyond how I feel, into what I believe.

These weeks come.  They are hard and humbling.  But you know the most amazing part?  God loves me no matter what I’m feeling.  He is all my beauty.  Any good that comes from me comes from Him.  He doesn’t change and He doesn’t have bad days and He doesn’t quit and He doesn’t give up halfway through.  He’s not going to stop drawing me while I’m still in the sketch phase – at the end of my life, every corner of the canvas will be complete.  He has written me a story that Shakespeare wishes he could have written.  So are my emotions in charge?  No.  They’re not.

 

What I’ve learned from my mom

I love my mom.  She is visiting this week and Mother’s Day is tomorrow, so I thought this was a good time to talk about a few things she has taught me on the subjects of clothes and beauty and generally keeping oneself presentable.

Thinking back to tiny childhood, the first gift she gave me was not worrying.  I played in the dirt all the time and I never worried about my clothes and I knew mom didn’t worry either.  When I say I played in the dirt, I don’t mean drawing on the ground with a stick, but still staying fairly clean.  One of my my favorite pastimes was smearing things in mud (my tricycle, the family dog, my sister, myself, anything handy really….).  If/when necessary, my mom hosed me off before I came in the house, but I never had to worry about keeping my play clothes nice.  It translates to a peaceful easy feeling about clothes.  That is a gift that I take for granted, but one that I love so much!

When I wasn’t outside smearing my face with the Dirt of a Hundred Gopher Holes, mom let me play dress up and draw dresses and choose my own clothes a lot of the time.  We also watched a ton of black and white movies growing up.     I think that is where my fashion love comes from – dress ups and old movies.  By the time I got to high school, some of my outfits were pretty strange looking, but mom let me try things and let me fail sometimes.  She gave me freedom to get messy and to figure things out, but she was there for advice when I needed her.

But rules and being allowed to do this or that are only a fraction of what you learn from your mom.  Rules are a tiny part – they are easily overwhelmed by learning through what your mom says and does and how she acts toward people and what she loves.

My mom doesn’t give up comfort or function in her clothes.  She chooses practical clothes in happy colors and never wears anything itchy or constricting.  Since she feels comfortable, she looks comfortable.  She likes clothes, but she mainly likes being able to forget them and get on to what she’s doing.

Simplicity can be very beautiful.  Don’t hide behind artifice.  Mom always looks genuine – she doesn’t change faces when she puts on makeup.  Her beauty is her own and it is linked directly to her kindness.  Kindness is beautiful.  My mom’s smile is like solar power – a powerful sunshine magic that warms you up inside.  My mom gives herself away through those smiles and she gives so herself so freely and sincerely.

My mom rejoices in what makes other people beautiful.  Do you ever look at a friend and see something beautiful about them and sigh inwardly, because it doesn’t belong to you?  It’s pretty instinctive for most of us.  My mom doesn’t do that.  I think it is one of the most beautiful things about her.  My mom is really competitive, but it is the healthy kind of competition that makes every game more fun.  It’s never about having better hair or better makeup or better clothes than somebody else.  Her competitive spirit isn’t tinged with envy.  It doesn’t involve one-upmanship.  She builds people up and focuses on their strengths, even when they aren’t the same as her strengths.

I’m so blessed by my mom.  If you haven’t met her, I’m sorry.  If you do meet her, you’ll understand all this.

Thank you, mom.  This one’s for you.  Happy Mother’s Day!

It’s the thought that counts

For All Occasions

 

It’s Christmas time – the season with a thousand parties, no money to spend on clothes, and no time to spend shopping for yourself, because you need to shop for everybody else.  Without the right attitude, that can be demoralizing.  Even miserable.  Who wants to be miserable at Christmas?  Nobody.  But the truth is, Christmas is a season that comes with so many expectations (both real and imaginary) that it is easy to get disappointed and miserable.  Any time we have an ideal vision, we have to decide how to react to changes BEFOREHAND.  Because it’s not going to be exactly how you imagine it.  That’s a given.  Do you want a beautiful frosty-snowy-silver-white Christmas?  You can’t control the weather, so decide beforehand what you’ll do if the blessed morning is wet and rainy.  It’s a good experiment in general – nobody wants to admit, “If it is wet and rainy, I will fume inwardly the entire day of Christmas.  Because the day will only be perfect if it snows.  If it does snow, I will be grateful and smile all day with love in my heart for everyone around me.”  I can’t control the weather – the only thing I get to control is how I react to the weather.  (Feeling very convicted right now – this is why I hate blogging sometimes.  I’m sure it’s very good for me and I need it.)
Anyway, long extended weather metaphor – we have a lot of expectations about clothing at Christmas.  In an ideal world, we have a perfect outfit for every party we attend, the perfect hat for caroling, the perfect boots for the snow.  And then winter hits and we have to hit the ground running to take care of everybody else’s clothes and everybody else’s presents and decorating the house.  So decide beforehand how you will react to not having the perfect dress for a Christmas cocktail party, because odds are good that you won’t have exactly what you are imagining.  You can decide to feel dowdy and run-down and boring, because it is the one dress you have and you’ve been wearing it to every party for the last five years, or it is the only dress that fits right now, or it suffers by comparison.
Okay – COMPARISONS.  That can be a real season-killer.  With Instagram and Facebook, you don’t even have to get to the party to feel ugly.  Do those pre-party selfies get anybody else down?  Does it ever make you want to not go at all?  If your heart drops and you spiritually give up after seeing another girl’s outfit on Instagram, you are dressing to compete.  Don’t dress to compete – dress to show that you are celebrating!  Choose to love what you have to wear.  If you are bored with your black dress, borrow a cool necklace (go ask your grandma – she has cool stuff).  Throw on your coolest jacket.  Pull those shoes out – the fancy ones that you had to buy when you were in that wedding.  There are all kinds of ways to make what you have look different and feel different.  Red lipstick always makes me feel ready to take on the world.  Find one aspect that makes you feel beautiful – that is all it takes.  I’ve gone very general/spiritual/philosophical on this one, so if you ever have any specific questions about how to use what you have, leave a question in the comments section.  I’d love to help you figure out whatever challenges you have – really, it would make my day.
When it comes to Christmas dressing, the most beautiful thing in the world is joy.  Joy comes from receiving unlimited love and having all that love to give other people.  That is what Christmas is all about.  Don’t let a failed vision or an unfulfilled expectation steal anything from you.  Don’t let comparisons with other people steal anything from you.  There is too much to be joyful about.
There is a beautiful verse from a Christmas carol that sums it up.  I’ll leave you with this, because nothing I can write can top it.  Merry Christmas, everybody.  Thanks for reading.
And ye who would the Christ Child greet
Your hearts also adorn,
That it may be a dwelling meet
For Him who now is born.
Let all unlovely things give place
To souls bedecked with heav’nly grace,
That ye may view His Holy face,
With joy on Christmas morn.
-Alfred Burt

Costumes & Someone Else’s Story

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What’s the difference between clothes and costumes?  It’s a good question to ask around Halloween (one of the more socially acceptable times to wear costumes around town).  The distinction isn’t between normal and fantastical, because some costumes look like normal clothes and some clothes can look other-worldy or bizarre or fantastically beautiful.  In a performance, costumes are designed to tell stories.  So is the distinction between clothes that tell stories and clothes that don’t?  I’d argue no.
All clothes tell stories, but the difference comes with the story.  Your clothes tell your story.  Costumes tell somebody else’s story.
A helpful experiment is to switch your point of view and pretend to be a costume designer.  This is a happy game for me.  Ever since I was little, costume designer has been at the top of my list of Jobs I Want When I Grow Up.  This is the same list as the glamorous jazz singer… and the Indiana-Jones-but-a-girl museum archivist….and the unflappable secret agent (or all of those in some kind of combination). But clothes came first.  I’ve been obsessed with fashion and costumes for as long as I remember.  Around age 12, I started checking out design history books from the library and studying costume design, focusing on Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1960s and all the famous costumers (Adrian, Orry-Kelly, Cecil Beaton, Edith Head, the list goes on).  Weird hobby, I know.
Once you look from a costumer’s point of view, it’s hard to stop.  I didn’t realize how much I did, until last year, when I went to a local production of Romeo and Juliet and spent most of the play mentally redesigning all the costumes.  Permission to geek out a little bit?
In my dream production of Romeo and Juliet, the set, lighting, and costume design would be centered around two lines.  There’s that one line that everybody knows from the balcony scene, when Romeo asks, “What light from yonder window breaks?  It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”  The second comes from Friar Lawrence in Act II, “These violent delights have violent ends/ And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,/ Which as they kiss consume…”  Juliet is the rising sun.  Juliet is a consuming fire.  Costume design will help illustrate the arc of Juliet, from the first quiet sunbeams to the scorching destruction of her zenith.
The very beginning of the play would be in shades of gray, because Juliet (the sun) hasn’t appeared yet.  There wouldn’t be color until the moment Romeo sees Juliet at the party.  That moment is dawn.  After that, nothing can stop the sun’s rising.  As soon as Romeo and Juliet meet, it’s the equivalent of a ticking time bomb – that’s what the friar means when he says they are fire and gunpowder.   Juliet would enter in sunshine yellow – a color that connotes youth, innocence, energy, friendliness.  Romeo plays the moon, the counterpart to Juliet as the sun – he would wear shades of gray when he is by himself, because the moon produces no light by itself, it only borrows light from the sun.  When he is with Juliet, his costumes start showing hints of white, because he reflects her light.  By their wedding day, Juliet’s color would deepen to a bright gold and Romeo’s colors would lighten to gray and white – it is their mid-morning.  Then the seeds of violence from the beginning of the play start to sprout and the death counts start escalating.  Romeo is exiled and separated from his light source – he returns to his gray clothes.  During his exile, Juliet grows in resolve and passion – her clothes start showing tinges of red, like flame edges.  At the beginning of the play, she’s the first cool rays of dawn, but by the time Romeo returns from exile, she’s the scorching heat of summer.  She’d burn down the whole world to be with him.  The sun has terrifying power – it’s 93 million miles away and that still seems too close when it beats down at midday.  The play ends at high noon- the height of her beautiful, but destructive power.  She ends in flame red, he ends in black.  Their ending is the explosion that Friar Lawrence anticipated from the beginning – when fire and gunpowder kiss, they are both consumed.
That came from two lines of text and it’s just an example of how much thought goes into designing a world.  A costume designer has to know their characters.  The more detailed the character analysis, the more the costume can tell us.  What do the characters love?  What do they want?  What scares them?  Where do they come from?  How much money do they have?  What colors speak to them?  What secrets are they hiding?  When we’re watching a movie or a play, we agree to play along.  Without our imagination filling in the gaps, it doesn’t work.  The first time we see the main character, we subconsciously fill in their backstory before they say their first line.  That has everything to do with costume storytelling. We invest in those characters for two and a half hours and figure them out by every decision they make – what they decide to say, what they decide to do, what they put on in the morning.
We are used to this judgement process in a movie setting, because that is part of the game.  But how does it work in real life?  We usually try to fight against that impulse. We are told we shouldn’t form opinions based on appearances – don’t judge a book by its cover.  Why not?  When I meet somebody new, they are a puzzle to me.  If I care about them at all, I will invest some thought into finding out who they are.  Unlike the movie character, they didn’t spring into existence when I walked into the room.  They have a real backstory, not one that I assume or make up.  You can never ask all the right questions to get to know somebody, but you can know a lot about somebody by their reactions and their choices.  Be observant and pay attention to people.  Be interested in the real stories around you.  That girl who is taking your order leads a parallel life to you.  Unlike Juliet, she exists all the time.  Juliet exists (very dramatically) for three hours at a time.  So pay her the compliment of wondering about her and her story.  Try to figure out a little bit about who she is.
When we say “don’t judge on appearances”, I think we mainly just don’t want other people judging us.  I know that’s the case for me.  This blog post has worked me over, because I took a step back and asked, “If there was a character who dressed like me in a movie, what would I think about them?”  I didn’t like it.  I cried.  But as long as it teaches you something, don’t avoid it just because it’s hard.
Two big questions to start with:  what does this person love?  What does she fear?  Based on Ashley’s clothes, I’d say that she loves colors and interesting prints and textures and is enthusiastic about her interests.  She loves other people, but she doesn’t get too entangled in other people’s stories.  She doesn’t dress to attract guys, but she’s not dressing to repel them either.  In the movie, she’s the observer, the romantically neutral character – the protagonist’s best friend or an eccentric coworker.  Her main fear is being overlooked and ignored. Being invisible. Her bright colors are to avoid fading into the background.  She wants to be noticed on her own terms – as an interesting person with a sense of humor and things to say.  She’s just scared that nobody cares enough to ask.
So judge by appearances.  Don’t rely on people telling you everything.  Be willing to invest in the lifetime pursuit of learning about people. Make guesses.  Be genuinely interested.  Figure out what they love.  Figure out what they fear.  Just be willing to figure yourself out at the same time.