Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Writing and the Real Hoodie

I had this hoodie, see? And it was the only thing that would let me really write. Buried in its terry fleece depths, chewing on its strings, pushing my thumbs through the holes in its ragged cuffs, I could really let myself go into my novel like I never intended to come out. If you are a writer, you know how it goes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. The writing, that is.

If you are not a writer, you may not realize how superstitious we writers can be about what makes it work.

Some things help you write. A smell (eucalyptus, but never flowers) or food (chicken shawarma, and always chocolate) or maybe even a particular shirt. Or hoodie. You develop favorites, and you surround yourself with them and say to your brain: "Go." In fact, these objects can become so significant to your process that you can't function without them. When this happens, then that object becomes not only helpful, not only nice to have, but "real." Like a specific perfume becomes your real perfume (West Indian Lime, Crabtree and Evelyn), a particular article of clothing, a pair of socks, a hair clip becomes your real hair clip. This happened to a t-shirt of Joshilyn's, which originated as a t-shirt of mine, many years ago. It said ROAD PONIES on the front. It became her "real" t-shirt and no other t-shirt would suffice. This is also what happened with the real hoodie. Am I getting to crazy for you? It's really not all that difficult to grasp -- it's like a uniform. It makes you feel like doing your job.

Let me put it a different way. My literary turn-ons...

In 1996: Cigarettes. Martinis. Solitude. The city.

In 2011: My real hoodie. My fantasy pants. Vicks. Limes. Sonic ice.

Things have changed. I had two kids. I can't wait on tequila and solitude. I no longer live in a big city and I no longer smoke. I needed new signals for my brain, preferably signals that do not preclude me from parenting my children when needed.

So this hoodie. It is a simple garment. A black hoodie with athletic stripes down the sides of the arms. It's not soft fleece; it's terry on the inside. I don't know when I started seeing it as my writing uniform but it happened. And then it happened so much that the thing began to deteriorate. Holes formed. Threads frayed. It was washed a zillion times and it faded. In spots. But it was still so perfect and so wonderful... I could not let it go, even though I looked absolutely insane while wearing it outside the house. A small part of my brain could see that I looked like a crazy homeless person staggering around town in this vile scrap of hoodie, but most of my brain was saying, It's fine, it's fine, it's totally fine! You need this hoodie, or else your novel is never going to be finished.

I did finish my novel (thank you, hoodie). And I happened to be in France when I finished. Maybe it was the wine, or the Seine, or the bicycles, but some perverse imp took over my brain, and I thought to myself, "If I throw out this hoodie in France, I will never be able to take it back. I won't be able to fish through the garbage or wonder about getting it back. It will be final, and I know it's the right thing to do." So I threw away the real hoodie in France. Because in the giddy aftermath of having torn the last page out of my typewriter (not really) to holler, "DONE!" I had forgotten that I would actually have to write more things, after this. For which the hoodie might come in handy. And I knew that throwing out the hoodie was the right thing to do because it was really, really awful.

Upon our return to the states, my cheerful fog parted and I realized that 1. I had to revise my novel and even write more novels and 2. I could do neither without the real hoodie.

Panic ensued. No amount of West Indian Lime or ice from Sonic or handknit socks or fantasy pants could help. I needed a replacement hoodie immediately.

I went to the store and bought half a dozen potential hoodie replacements. I knew I could not hope to find an exact duplicate, so I veered into cardigans. Maybe, I thought, I could actually find something to attach myself to that wouldn't look like shit in a week, and that I might actually be able to wear out of the house without shame. Now wouldn't that be strange?

Out of my potential hoodies, one ended up having snaps under fake buttons. Dumb, and it was also too hot. One was a very large brown sweater with shaggy snarles of yarn hanging off it all over the place, and it really seemed likely that it could become real, but no. The sleeves were too long. Not even Joshilyn could make it real, though she tried too. Maybe it was too brown. There were other failures. Too stiff, too formal, too bright, or maybe sleeves too short.

Then I found it. The magical hoodie replacement for which I had been searching. It was a cardigan, no buttons or snaps, with a foldy collar, and long sleeves but not too long. It's a thin knit, warm but not hot, and so nondescript it disappears. here I am wearing it. Can you see the cardigan? I think not:

Now the story gets really strange. This next part might make you believe in unicorns or else the sweet sweet magic of fairies. Recently I was at our summer place in Pennsylvania, and I was digging around on a seldom-used coat rack, lifting away layer after layer of old scarves, strange hats, and jackets. At the bottom of the hook, I saw something absolutely astonishing. A black hoodie, with stripes down the side. I'm not claiming that this hoodie, clearly placed here in Biblical times, was my hoodie, somehow transported back from the garbage can where I hurled it in France. I know it's not my real hoodie -- it's got no holes in it and the strings aren't chewed. In fact, it was almost pristine. A brand new, pristine, powerful writing hoodie which I now own in addition to the powerful writing cardigan that I had been cheerfully calling a hoodie for months.

So now when I go running around the house, shrieking at Dan, "WHERE IS MY REAL HOODIE? I NEED IT!" I know it's not a hoodie I'm looking for. It's the power. The power is in lime fizzy drinks, it's in pear deodorant, in bullet-shaped ice, in clumpy fur slippers. It's Dumbo's little feather. It's Mina Murray's garlic necklace in fleece terry. It's the one ring, Excalibur, and Zeus' aegis in soft, battleship grey polyester. And it's not going anywhere.

What's your talisman? Is limeade "real" for you? How about your favorite handknit socks?


  1. It's interesting how many writers have special clothes - in the way small children need a transitional object, a comfort blanket. Maybe it reflects the infant in us - writing takes us to vulnerable places and we need the landmarks of adulthood to hang on to.

  2. Amazing! Didn't Jo in Little Women have a special writing garment? A hat, I think. Maybe the reason I can't get any writing done other than blog posts is that I haven't found my talisman yet.

  3. JO, yes! A transitional object -- that is totally it. DAN I NEED MY TRANSITIONAL OBJECT! It fairly rolls off the tongue.

    PC: I seem to remember that as well. And if it works for Jo Marsh, why then, there is no shame. No shame. Hehehe.

  4. I don't have that special article of clothing. I have a special space and special music. When I'm in the midst of writing, I have to be sitting in "my" spot on the couch with my heating pad and my laptop. While I'm doing anything else, I have a specific list of songs I listen to that somehow keeps me in the story. If I'm stumbling around my story or my blog post, it's okay to read other things, but when I'm flowing through the story and things are just clicking, I cannot read anything else and I HAVE to listen to my songs. (No I can't tell you what they are! That would ruin EVERYTHING!) I cannot, however, listen to music while I write, even just instrumental stuff. Just doesn't work.

  5. Wonderful piece of writing here, Lydia.

    For me, it's my William Faulkner coffee mug. God help us all if it ever slips from my grasp and shatters on the floor.

    I've been searching for a Charles Dickens mug as a potential replacement, but haven't found anything yet to flip my writer's switch like the William F. mug.

  6. Hey Lydia,
    Interesting ! Your right, writing can be come from anywhere. Whether it is hoodies, food, sports n so on.

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