I had a bad dream last month. In the dream I had not only dramatically overscheduled myself, I’d also decided to make my all assets liquid – literally – storing them as something like ambergris in that it was some naturally occurring substance used to make perfume, the idea being that in a world that’s gone two-dimensional, humans would value the scents of a time gone by. Can’t say for sure, but I wonder if my mind wasn’t trying to make some sense of measuring everything in dollar terms.
When I worked in Senegal as a small-business consultant, I suggested to a cotton farmer who was in charge of selling his village’s cotton harvest that he consolidate his crop with those of surrounding villages, as the scale would give collectively better bargaining power and bring in more money. As his wasn’t the largest crop, doing so would mean he would no longer be the negotiator, a role he was proud of and that earned him respect in his village. Why would he lose that for a few extra dollars?
My suggestion was a mistake Westerners have been making all along as we exercise what has proven to be the best socioeconomic system (capitalism) in other parts of the world. We have over-indexed on the financial – the monetary – piece of capital and under-indexed on the other two key ingredients in building a successful company, which are people and materials. This is understandable: dollars are easy to measure, and useful for assigning values to things that can then be compared. But not only does this grossly oversimplify reality, it tricks us into thinking these other pieces are wholly substitutable when they’re not. The consequence has been that these two key ingredients have suffered as a result, in terms of availability and quality. Workforce training is not keeping pace with the skills today’s economy requires and the scale of environmental degradation today is unprecedented. Can we really stick a dollar value on a ton of CO2 in the atmosphere? On a person’s identity as a coal miner? On the stuff of everyday life? To put it simply, think about the very best things in your wardrobe, or in your home, and why they're your favourite. You'll be surprised by uncorrelated those things are with any objective dollar value.
About 10 years ago, a department store that had been in the downtown district of a smaller Ohio city closed. This was impactful in dollars for sure, as it meant the loss of a major driver of downtown traffic, as well as about 75 jobs. But it also meant the loss of the great pleasure of walking downtown and shopping, of interacting with other humans in real life in the pursuit of life’s little pleasures. This was viewed as small collateral damage, a simple inconvenience, but it hits squarely at the quality of life. Replace that short walk with a longer drive down a highway to a big box store with associates who are hired to stock not talk, and the transaction becomes a completely different experience with a very different value exchange. The need for that personal exchange, however, did not go away, and may be why that same town center today enjoys a thriving weekend farmer’s market.
Today we have incredible technological tools, and a far greater variety of perspectives weighing in on social and business planning. Armed with this progress, we can begin building about a go-forward that puts our people and our environment first, and uses money not as something that gets printed freely, or as a value to be amassed and stocked away in the billions, but that uses money as it should be used: as a way to mobilize people and our earth in a way that improves the lot of everyone. After all, it’s not a zero-sum game.
Because marches are almost always outdoors, dress for the weather, but fashionably, as there may be news cameras there. And if it’s during a global pandemic, wear a mask.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you a story. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, I am in labor, and we’re on our way to the hospital. My husband is driving. Suddenly the car fills with a powdery smoke - from the airbags deploying (ouch) - and we’re stopped, impeded by a telephone pole. The front of another car has pinned my husband in (uh-oh), but I feel the baby kick (phew!). My husband is now outside my door, letting me out, as he smashed his way out of his side of the car to come around and get me. Police are now on the scene, they take me to the hospital to deliver, while my husband stays to answer questions and get treatment, as his arm is bleeding badly. He misses the delivery. When he finally arrives, around 7 a.m., he is exhausted, in part because he spent over an hour strapped to a gurney alone in the ER, despite calling out repeatedly to remind people he was there. In his follow up a few hours later, he was asked for income information. When he asked why, he was told, “It says here you don’t have insurance.” Not true -- no one had bothered to ask him.
If he were white, would have been seen sooner? Would he have been asked if he had insurance? The cabbie who ran a stop sign at full speed and T-boned us (accident report definitively established fault with him, given the force of his car pushed ours off the road), would he have walked off without even a ticket (as he did) had he been black? We’ll never know. But the data imply it’s unlikely.
So this is why I am participating in an anti-racism march this afternoon. Because I am in Ottawa, where blacks comprise less than 7% of the population, it is likely most of the crowd will look like me - far more likely to be perpetrators of systemic bias than victims of it. But still, it is important to show up, in great numbers, to make it clear we reject the systemic racism behind the murder of George Floyd as well as the far too many that preceded him, whose names we know and the many more whose names we don’t. But here’s my concern:
That even if we have a million people (the entire population of Ottawa) this moment will do nothing to prevent yet another set of marches, a few years from now, because yet another black man is killed who, let’s face it, almost certainly would not have been killed had he been white.
Let’s start by admitting to ourselves that have biases, and that those biases influence our behaviour. We treat the unfamiliar differently than we treat the familiar, and most of us live in places where we’re surrounded by people who look like us. These are simple, unsurprising facts; neither is anything to be ashamed of. What we should be ashamed of is not taking the time or mental energy to recognize this to make sure we check our biases at the door.
Amy Cooper, the lady who called the police on the black bird watcher in Central Park, likely doesn’t see herself as racist. Probably George Zimmerman and Derek Chauvin wouldn’t self-identify as racist. Whoever called and alerted the cops to the “black man walking down the street wielding a knife” (aka my husband carrying a souvenir letter opener he’d recently acquired in Senegal for his English teacher) probably doesn’t think of themselves as racist. No one does because we all know how wrong it is to judge someone by the colour of their skin instead of by the content of their character. Yet we do it anyway. Every single one of us unconsciously disregards this universal truth.So that’s why we are marching at this protest, which, by the way, is not a riot and which is not anti-police. Police officers are called on to manage humanity day after day when we are at our worst - a job few of us would be able to survive mentally or emotionally, let alone physically - and physical danger is part of the job description. Our police officers need all the help they can get, so we are showing up for them as well.
There's a Facebook friend who regularly posts photos of hazy skies with blurs in them, claiming that it is part of an approaching celestial system which will greatly affect earth, possibly this year, and that these are signs of the last days. Which begs the question, what to wear.
It is true that with all these lives upended by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia (keep going down the alphabet), large swaths of India, Nepal and Bangladesh under water, and a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in one of the world's most populous cities, it can be hard to focus on fashion.
But some of us persevere. The shoe-gawkers who commented that Melania Trump misunderstood when Houston asked for pumps did not consider that some of us feel most comfortable and prepared in footwear different than what they might select. The aforementioned FB friend's end-of-the-world posts are usually accompanied by a link to a (43-minute long) video with advice on how to prepare, which, skimming through, appears to offer no pointers on dressing for the occasion. The word 'holey' popped up a few times, however, so let's go with it.
Growing up, clothes that were clean and hole-free were the only necessary ingredients for being well-dressed (at least in my household), but that began to change with the grunge look in the 90's.
Why is this look so practical for the end of the world? Let's start with the obvious: access to great online stores and sewing machines will likely be disrupted, so a) they're inevitable. Second, holes afford us the opportunity to show off our best assets, be it our knees or the clear-ish patch of skin on the inside of our left thigh. And finally, if you can't find clothes with strategically placed holes, it's so easy to make them. I'm reminded of this by my brother-in-law, who, at the start of the holey craze was surrounded by enough high-priced holey wear at Abercrombie and Fitch to knit his brow concernedly and ask the sales girl if they didn't have socks with holes already in them. (They did not, he'd have to diy it).
So, godspeed, friends in fashion, in your holey wardrobe preparedness*.
*Rain gear excepted
BNFB Tip #2:
Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Hence, this blog.
No white shoes before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Never mix metallics. Horizontal stripes are best left to narrow people.
There's a book on the dangerous false confidence of blindly following rules and adhering to theories as if they were 100% situationally correct. Fashion's not mentioned, but it should have been. There's a guy at work who wears white shoes year round, and he rocks them.
Here's a true story illustrating my point. I get an invitation, with my name on it, to the kind of party where they take pictures of the guests and put them in the newspaper’s social column. Never mind that I had to ask someone to get me the invitation. I find the perfect dress at a vintage booth at a local farmer’s market, and excitedly bring it home, only to hear my date tell me that, if I wear it, there’s no way he can accompany me.
So I seek a second opinion. After all, the dress is red white and blue and it is a Fourth of July party. My trusted source tells me it is ‘definitely a look’, and gives me tips on how to make it look ‘less costume-ey’ and suggests ways to cover it up (‘jean jacket? white blazer?’).
Moral of story: beware the false safety nets life presents us and just roll with it. Rules are really guidelines for beginners. There are so many other, far more important things to consider. So next Tuesday, break out those wool runners in pure natural white and rock them.
BNFB Tip #1:
If you must get a tattoo, get it in invisible ink. It hurts just as much as coloured ink but won’t piss off your parents.
As the dowdiest, frumpiest, pot-belliest and potentially worst-dressed person at Shopify, I’ve decided to launch a fashion blog - before my boss (and fashion rival) Russ retires and launches his own, which he is thinking of naming Kilts-R-Uss.
I have three looks: an office look, an urban look and a Coachella look (thanks IBK for telling me what Coachella is - yes, I get my 'cool' tips from engineers).
Office look: when buying pens consider their potential to double as hair ties. I like Paper Mate's ComfortMate Ultra (I use the 1.0M) on clean hair days: the rubbery sides stick a bit better. A standard Sharpie's good too: it has smoother sides and I'll use it when I'm wearing black (Mondays). While it can be a bit heavy for my thinning hair, thick-haired girls should have no problem.
Finally, today I got a handy email from Shopify on how to make your own lip balm. Informative, thorough and especially, time consuming. Now, you could go to all this trouble or you could just stick your pinky in your ear, then smear whatever you fish out across your lips. Not only does earwax seal and moisturize, it will also keep you from licking your lips. Credit to Yankee Magazine (go-to fashion resource).
I love lingering over a Sunday paper, but the newspapers here in Canada are full weekend editions printed on Saturdays. Luckily, there's enough content to have two Sunday morning-type sit-downs so I save half the paper for Sunday.
This morning I was inspired by one of the things the Globe & Mail does best: in-depth profiles of Canadian personalities. Last summer, I was inspired by that of Canadian Supreme Court justice and Polish immigrant Rosalie Abella. In it, a tale was recounted of Eleanor Roosevelt visiting the refugee camp where Rosalie was born, where Rosalie's father gave the official welcome, saying, “We are not in a position of showing you many assets. The best we are able to produce are these few children. They alone are our fortune and our sole hope for the future.”
This morning was another incredibly moving profile, this one of Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s new immigration minister, who also emigrated to Canada at a young age, and who also overcame the challenges of being from a culture and religion different from (and, as a result, sometimes distrusted by) many his new community. Strange as it sounds, and as G&M columnist Marsha Lederman points out, the formation that comes from overcoming these challenges is a great asset to a country. In fact, it’s what has made America what it is today. I hope we Americans do not lose sight of that. As Hussen contends, “History will judge that countries that are open will be more successful at the end of the day.”