@clotheslinetimeline by Maud Kelly

Western Barbie’s Bluest Eyelid

Hell hath no fury like an 8 year old about to not get Western Barbie. Christmas was not our strong suit. Easter—that my parents could pull off. It all happens in a basket, which is brilliant. Christmas is harder. First of all, you have to get a tree. I mean, Jesus. And you’re not done then—it’s just begun. There are no perceptible borders to this land of shame. I’d been with my mom to the thrift store and we had a gift for the twins—a plastic teeter totter. It was a small apartment, and though Western Barbie is not huge, I woulda known if she was there. Christmas Eve found me preemptively mad as hell. Moping, silent daggers, intoning the word Western Barbie in the exorcist’s voice under my breath. This was olden days—you couldn’t whine to your parents; you had to be stealth. Well, let me be clear. It was the ‘80s, so I think SOME children were starting to whine to their parents. Children with TV. Children whose folks were busy with careers & divorce and were getting the message that distractedness could be made up for with toys. A sense of entitlement was engulfing America’s children like a sinkhole of greed. And hell yes! I felt entitled to Western Barbie. She had a big blue winking eyelid! And a button on her back to make it go. And the platonic ideal of a cowgirl hat. I could not be happy until she was mine. The upshot: mom and dad had a tense morning and then my dad stormed out. He’d damn well better be going to get Western Barbie, I remember thinking, followed by the guilt of potentially getting what I wanted. The next morning, all wrapped up, there she was. I took her out. Stroked her fringe. Winked her eye. Felt terrible and wonderful. Truth was, I was a touch old for Barbie. An hour later some friends brought over a block of clay. I set about building a bed, chairs, walls. I put Western Barbie in her stone age dwelling. She was not very sporting about it—refused to sit down and acted too good for the place. I picked her up, pocketed her hat, and swiftly bit off her big blue eyelid, leaving her with one regular eye and one bulbous lidless fish eye. I tossed her aside, found my brothers, and set them on their teeter totter for a ride.

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The Fall (& Catch) of Man Pants

PARACHUTE. PANTS. If ever an item of clothing shouted the shout of a moment in time, a moment that BELONGED to breakdancers and Michael Jackson and really no one else except also all of America, ‘tis the parachute pant. Wheeeee!! It’s 1983. Ronald Reagan is convincing us with sly eyes that black and poor people are the problem and rich people should be given alllllllll the treats. We are leaping into the future! Falling into the future! Don’t worry, we brought parachutes! Oh no! We turned our parachutes into pants! But hey, if we’re going to go down, America, we may as well look crazy doing it. Everyone had to have a pair. I HAD TO HAVE A PAIR. My temples pounded with the want of it. I did not have the smallest feet. Was not the most quiet. But I was the most able to train my desire on the exact right thing and like a hawk not stop stalking and swooping until it was mine. My poor parents. In both senses. God love my father. Once again, the door slammed behind him. Many hours later he returned holding an Army surplus store bag. He called me to the living room. Held them up, pronouncing, Now look, I got ‘em… They were the right color. The right fabric and gratuitous zipperage. The problem—they were 7 sizes too big. The waist came to my chest, the legs ballooned. They had surely been made for an actual Air Force pilot. My eyes widened. I tried not to cry. Be grateful, I told myself, temples aching. Be strong. I burst into tears. My dad’s face fell, but he kept talking. Now I know they’re not quite right, but we’re gonna fix ‘em, ok. How hard could it be? Friends—very hard. We got the sewing kit and did our best, sitting together for hours trying to tame that slippery fabric. They ended up lumpy. Unwearably ugly. But these many years later, as I watch Reagan’s dream of a ground-down lower class and an untouchably soaring upper manifest itself, and I think of all the families trying so hard to stay buoyant, I hold this image of the two of us, floating somewhere between and beyond, my dad refusing to let me fall, his heart as strong and light as parachute silk.

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The Rovelli

Without heat, there is no time, says Carlo Rovelli, Italian Physicist. I barely understand that, but I like whispering it—There is no time without heat. There was no time before heat. There was no time in your life (from the moment you arrived into your little bundle of nuclei and extrapolation) when you did not emit heat. You were born from, and unto, heat, and therefore to, and unto, time. Children are sexual creatures, but their sexuality is, in its inchoate, diffuse way, almost more like wonder. Maybe it IS wonder. Be ironic if our longing to find GOD, GODDESS, SOURCE, ETC., in this everyday world (and our ability to occasionally find HIM, HER, THEM, ETC. here) arises not in spite of, but thanks to, our sexuality. I’m sure when floating in whatever dimension we inhabit without a body it is effortless, this connection to the Divine. Here on earth, though, my soul is in a body, and the line I ride, the line I began creating with that body the moment I was dropped into this life (was flung against this life) and the line I continue to render as I splash and skitter along the plane of this life, is propelled by the biological, bodily feeling of want. I remember being 6 and swimming with my Aunt Caroline’s teenage boy friends, their billowing shorts and tan backs so compelling I refused to get out and got a terrible sunburn. This shirt didn’t come til later, spring, 4th grade, from Ziezo, the shop Caroline’s friend Carol owned. I have a memory of rubbing it with my fingers while it hung, willing it to be mine. Want still vague but coalescing. There were the soccer boys, so clearly inside their bodies, and the nerdy boys, still mostly in their minds. There was John Cougar to contend with. This was a sexy shirt, at least from the inside. From there it felt like pure wonder. Paint splattered ever which way. Frenzy contained by dropcloth cotton. It didn’t cling but let the air in. Oh the feeling when you wear the right thing. For you and for the moment. There is no time without heat, says Rovelli. Without heat, there is no time.

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The Winged Victory of Florissant

Is this the saggy baggy leotard I borrowed from my mom’s friend Diane to wear to my first ever ballet class at age 12, a Beginner Level One I somehow failed to realize would contain 10 adorable pink-kitted kindergarten ballerinas and me, a sideponied Gulliver with back acne and no discernible dance skills, or is it the Hellenistic statue The Winged Victory of Samonthrace, hewn from Thasian and Parian marble and depicting the goddess Nike in the very moment she has alighted on the prow of a ship which either is about to be, or which has just been, victorious in battle?It’s the leotard. But—BUT—by pulling this worn out thing from the pocketbook of shame tucked deep within my mind—Oh, you’ve got one, admit it, that grimy coin purse you go rooting around in, gathering up embarrassing memories like loose change to feed the meter on your I’m Not Worthy parking spot—and taking some time to really look at it and even to render it, I gave that sad old leotard the chance to transform itself into something else. And it did. It stood up tall and proud and even gave itself a little swagger. Completely unbidden by me, by the way, who was fully prepared to have it come out just as dingy and humiliating as I remembered it. But oh happy day! Alight Good News Triumph Sashay Stride Ahead is the name of the game in this particular statue, which is what makes it so beloved. Well that and the whole tits-wings-abs combination. Since I possessed none of those characteristics at the time, I will now wing this Winged Victory version of my once fraught sad sack back to myself from here in the future. Why not? If memory can travel forward in time to find us wherever we are right now, why can’t we send something back to meet it? Yes, I think I shall. Godspeed, Goddess Garment, Godspeed.

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The David Lee Roth (1 of 2)

The David Lee Roth (2 of 2)

Hey, America—Listen up! ‘Cause I’m only gonna say this 600 times. Girls. Are. The. Agents. Of. Their. Own. Bodies. If all has gone ok and they’re not too traumatized, They (usually) Like. Sex. They are SEXUAL BEINGS. Oh sure, they’re taught not to be, or taught to become pinnacle of contoured stilettoed, but I’m not talking about being maximally desirable. I’m talking about DESIRING. It’s different. Do you know what forgetting to put women in the active center of the sexual equation leads to?? DO YOU? It leads to the criminalization of autonomous women. It leads to fear and quaking under the patriarchy. No one is served by this. Not men, not women. No one. It’s 1984. Two years into MTV. Madonna’s twirling, Boy George is swirling, and all of a sudden, synthesizers start, and David Lee Roth leaps onto stage. (Eddie was like ugh, but DLR said We might as well synth, Go ahead and synth). He crawls toward the mic. Dances like he’s gotta make the team. Seductively. Campily. Muscularly. JUMP is on. And I am INTO IT. No, I don’t want to passively receive it! F that! Which is why I felt betrayed in 1988 when California Girls meant rows of bikini mannequins. No! It’s so easily twisted. We are meant to show up for EACH OTHER. Without knowing why, when I took in what he was dishing up I wanted to dance, too, to match that energy. I would soon realize that’s not how we’re doing female sexuality at the moment. There are no temple priestesses,OK? Well, I mean, some, but they’re far outnumbered by the Fundamentalists and the Fuck Its at the moment. But for one moment, in 1984, in one gym in one school in one suburb in America, one girl was happy, because it was Friday, and in PE, Fridays meant dance party. Yes I brought 1984–the album. When those notes came on I closed my eyes and I spun and I crawled and I embodied and I exuded and I kicked and I strutted and I pursed those lips, and I went deep, and then at the end, with that final slow synth I spun my last, came down to a knee, spread my arms, and opened my baby blues to see 25 5th graders stock still, mouths agape. But that was okay. I recovered. You know what’s not okay? Undermining women’s power. Because hear this: We were priestesses before, and we will be again. And I promise you—THERE WILL BE FUCKING DANCING.

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Three Neon Sweatshirts Inside Elementary (School), Missouri

After the dancing, the hiding. Do you remember that feeling of being 11, looking around the classroom, neighborhood, or family, and asking yourself, What the hell is all this? Human child animals have one main job, neurologically speaking—to map the people/place/language that surround them here in gravity/body land. To learn the ways of the tribe. I have to assume that for some this mapping is done easily and quickly—Whelp, I guess this is the world and here’s my place in it. For others the mapping is a longer, more fretful process. This is truer, I think, for people who don’t feel they fit. I have a hunch that all people don’t really feel they fit, and I have a further hunch that this problem has increased dramatically in the modern world, though I do love to imagine a feudal serf standing in a field, looking off into the middle distance, thinking, Well, how did I get here? Certainly a factory seamstress staring at the serger grappled with disconnect, likely at the moment she pulled apart a seam. Hunter gatherers? I doubt existential angst plagued them so much as existential wonder ignited in them questions that were answered by land, animals, water and sky. But children, especially if they have moved from one place to another, are by far the best anthropologists/cartographers we have. If you live in a city divided by race and class, and let’s face it, who doesn’t in America, even moving across town can create a storm of questions, chiefly: How can people so almost exactly alike be so different? I was obsessed with Kara S., a girl who sat next to me. Specifically her possessions: a perfect bob, an enviable blend of intelligence and self-contained composure, and three neon sweatshirts. Two were solid colors (pink, cantaloupe) and one had a safety dancer on it. As a field anthropologist dons a mosquito net, I acquired my own sweatshirt, hoping it would offer me the protective shield I felt Kara wore. I made mine an XL with all the colors (yes, there was a fight). I will live here, I said, climbing in. I will keep watch from this post.

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Contributors:

Maud Kelly is a poet (Best American Poets 2009, Pleiaedes, Barrow Street) and essayist. She is writing a memoir on instagram based on articles of clothing, both her own and others. She draws the clothes and writes mini-essays that follow along a linear path but are meant to extend beyond traditional first-this-then-that storytelling into an outwardly expansive space.

Maud says the Instagram platform is perfect for memoir—the way it stacks up discreet little pictorial pieces feels to her like how memory works. You can scroll all the way back to the beginning or reach in an pull out a single one for mulling.

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Short, sweet and infrequent! Stay up-to-date with curated content, links to book reviews, interviews, craft essays, contest and submission announcements, and other excellent resources for memoir writers! All for FREE!

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