Sunday, January 30, 2011

architectural digest

Today in our little class, I asked the women sitting in the chairs circling me to do a couple of silly things. The first was to tell us the reason for choosing the shoes they had on today. The question came to mind when I saw the truly funky shoes worn by my new friend, the very cool Katherine— tall suede wedges that zipped up the back of her heel. I don't even know what the style would be called, I am so far away from trends, but I know I could probably not stand in them, they are that cool. And the zipper would just mean BLISTER for me. I am so not that cool.

Katherine had the first turn and admitted that she had hidden the shoes in her purse before going out of the house to church, so her husband couldn't see. She was supposed to be adhering to an austerity plan of sorts I think, but she just had to have those shoes.
Other shoes, other stories. Toes tired of standing in business woman pumps chose favorite boots instead. My friend Lee had on her very stunning 50th birthday kick-ass boots, because that's what she was feeling like today. Kicking ass.

Another woman, with very wide feet, talked of finding her first fashionable shoes at the Wide Shoe Warehouse, and how much better it made her feel to be wearing something stylish, rather than tennis shoes. Still another said she was wearing her mother's shoes — black paten loafers — shoes  her mother had given away because they were too wide for her slim foot. The mother of three girls, a set of twins and one other, preschoolers all, she said that trendy shoes for her were out of the question. I had seen this mother as I headed from the car to church — she trying to stop one of the twins long enough to put a bow in her tousled hair. One daughter cried the entire walk down the long sidewalk.

Most of the women my age (including me) wore low heeled shoes, while the younger women wore spiked heels or boots, so high I know would fall off them and hurt myself if I tried to walk in them. I have a narrow foot, and shoes have always been such a problem for me to find. Only the expensive Italian ones seem to fit my foot, so I tend to keep the shoes that do fit for a long time, wear them out. These days it's flats usually, and the fact that nobody anywhere is making narrow shoes anymore means that pretty much every pair of shoes in my closet does not fit me properly, except the old walking shoes. So of course I have bunions. 

My mother has a closet full of Ferragamos, all quads. She told me once that because I wore her size (my sister wears a 7.5 I think), she would leave them to me. I haven't worn a quad since I started pounding my feet, running after toddlers 28 years ago. I couldn't squeeze my big toe into my wedding shoes if I tried. (I think I finally gave them away last year.) Nor could I wear a single pair of my mother's shoes. (Metaphor intended.)

But what if I really want the antique corner cupboard or the silver or the wing chairs in her living room? Do I have to get shoes I can never wear?

The other silly question I asked was three-fold: What did you want to be when you were 10? Who are you now? And what would it take to be the person that 10-year-old wanted to be?

Laura wanted to be Farah Fawcett,to marry the boy who sat next to her in fifth grade.  Cool Katherine, who is very tall, wanted not to be. And she admitted to playing with Barbies (I played with them, too), and to spending time dressing them and fixing their hair so that now she tells her friends what to wear. Marty wanted to be Nancy Drew. Velma, the oldest in our group, said she just wanted to get out of the house. Which she did, the same year I was born.

I didn't share my answer. I couldn't think of anything I ever wanted to be, except a writer, and everybody already knew that about me.

And then I remembered: Once upon a time I wanted to be an architect.

When I was just learning to read, one of our reading books contained stories about a neighborhood being built. I remember in first grade, being fascinated by the houses, each one in a different phase of building. What drew me where the bones of the house, the stick built structures standing there before they got their skin. 

At 9 or 10, my friends and I drew houses. Using fountain pens  we sketched out family rooms with shuttered picture windows, balconied second-story bedrooms, carports with flower beds circling around them, curving staircases that always led to white-carpeted rooms. I loved in particular to draw the floor plans, carefully placing bay windows and walk-in closets — I might have even used a ruler to get the lines straight... I can't remember that now.

But then, math intervened.  I just wasn't good at it. I could do long division pretty well, but by the time I got to algebra, I got all mixed up with the abcs and xyzs, and though I did do pretty well in geometry, forget about calculus. 

When I lie awake at night, sometimes I think about the fact that a whole room stands above me, with all my daughter's trinkets held there, and I am grateful that I don't have to worry about that floor falling down on me, because I am confident the person who designed my house knew more about math than I do. 

Even today, when I walk into a house I admire or marvel at a skyscraper, I sometimes wish I possessed the vision and the expertise to design it. But the people who inhabit those buildings on a daily basis have to be thankful that I didn't try to fake it. To be the architect I dreamed of being at 10 would have been disastrous. For many.
So gosh, how can I connect the girl I wanted to be at 10, to what I have become?


There is an architecture to sentence structure, and a lot of it, when I think of it. And though I might misplace a metaphor or misspell a word or two, I doubt that even my favorite college professor would get so much as a concussion from reading what I write.  And as far as I have been able to figure, math is rarely if ever involved. Thank goodness for that.