Packing for MOBY Seattle: what to wear, what to wear..

“A man,” wrote Henry David Thoreau “who has at length found something to do will not need to get a new suit to do it in; for him the old will do, that has lain dusty in the garret for an indeterminate period.”  This is, I believe, sound advice right up until you pull the suit out of the closet and discover the moths have been at it, creating a series of obvious perforations around the middle of the skirt.  I’d be most upset with the moths, but Thoreau’s advice doesn’t take into account the impact of time on a woman’s figure either, and what once hung loose about my hips is now decidedly snug.  And what was flirtatiously short is now outrageously inappropriate.  Likely it was inappropriate when I bought it, but, since it hung loosely on my hips, it would have also fallen lower on the leg.

Frankly, I suspect it never fell quite low enough, but likely it looked pretty smashing in its day.

I confess to a most unfortunate creeping dread of this MOBY Seattle event.  ” If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes,” Thoreau advises, but poking around my closet yields few options of conventionally acceptable sartorial splendor.  I own jeans, one pair is even unstained with cuffs not yet frayed, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that when the notice said “business casual,” farm business is not quite what they had in mind.

The quote, picked out and repeated endlessly, from Thoreau’s chapter “Economy” in Walden is “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes..” but this isn’t even a line taken out of context. It’s a sentence fragment.  As it reads it suggests a distrust of any growth or change.

“I say,” Thoreau wrote “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.”

I didn’t start out a sheep farmer. I started out a nice middle class daughter of an engineer and a housewife who prided herself on her modern views.  My mother was able to stay home, pity her friends who had to work, and without any recognition of the irony of it all.. wear a tshirt emblazoned “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”  My father had high hopes I’d take the opportunity in college to study something sensible, like engineering.  My mother had high hopes I’d snag myself a nice boy with a lucrative career in front of him.

Both were destined for disappointment.  I took degrees in economics, political science, and history.. none of which actually lead to gainful employment.. and went to live on a farm after graduation.

I don’t remember if the baby beeves, all knobby knees and sturdy legs, mouths rimmed in formula, cared much if I showed up dressed for success or not.  The did care if I carried the bottle though, and if I showed up without it let loose a lowing song of protest.  I did, in that cow barn, discover the benefits of the steel toed boot, or, as a friend of mine once remarked grimly as he peered in the freezer, one foot bound up in a cast, “there is no satisfaction in the world like eating the cow that used to step on you.”

Briefly I flirted with the lifestyle known as “ski bum.” I’ve a nice selection of ski clothing from that adventure, the old barn coats being insufficient to the heady wine of perfect snow on a bitter cold day.  I flirted with investment banking, taking a position in a firm which wrote the text for mutual fund statements.  The crowning achievement of my professional career in that venture proved to be describing a fund, which returned less than a percentage point across the 1990s, a decade of unparalleled investment returns, as “a remarkably stable investment.”

I bought a suit for that enterprise.  But the suit was uncomfortable, and so was the job.

“All men search for something to be,” and over the course of my checkered  career I’ve risen at dawn to feed beef calves and worked as a delivery driver.  I’ve raised turkeys and built custom picture frames.  I’ve gathered eggs and sold ski equipment, put up hay and told stories, sheered sheep and written op ed columns.  I am, there’s no hope for it, a farmer.  I can not leave a garden fallow, or a lamb to struggle.  I can’t drive past a hayfield with bales down when weather threatens without pulling in to lend a hand. I can’t walk sensibly past blackberry brambles without wading in tearing skin and clothing to harvest the fruit.  The rose hips, ornamental and unharvested in the planters of a large parking lot, make me  positively twitchy.

I am a farmer.  “Our moulting season, like that of the fowls, must be a crisis in our lives,” wrote Thoreau, but my crisis is long past.  “You were born in the wrong century,” my father says with some disgust, having gone through his own moulting season long ago, shedding the skin of poverty, securing through education a level of wealth his parent’s might never have imagined.  That his daughter might have shed the trappings of middle class for the muddy boots of a farmer is something he hasn’t reconciled to.

“.. clothes” opines Thoreau, “are but our outmost cuticle and mortal coil,”  his unease with new clothes stemming from fashion’s unique ability to paint, with the brush of fine fabric, a picture of who we are not.  A breezy haircut, a touch of cosmetics, the right combination of color, cut, and fabric, and surely even I could project a polished appearance of urbane sophistication.

And arrive ” sailing under false colors, to be inevitably cashiered at last by our own opinion, as well as that of mankind.”

Business casual it is then.  Farm business.

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