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Mugged in Chicago
Mugged in Chicago

Dear Kim,

A few days ago, you made a drawing about clothes in which one person was wearing pants to everyone else's skirts. I am fascinated by that drawing. It looked as if one of the skirts also conveyed the image of a dunce cap, for the one poor soul who had stepped out of line and dared to express him or herself differently.

(Kim: No, I wasn't thinking about a dunce cap (and I didn't recognize it as that) but I was thinking about these wood indians that all fit together with one sitting on top of another. Since Linda has been sewing day and night for a few months I also have been thinking about the different fabrics of clothes.)

Was that deliberate? Did you plan to convey a dunce cap? Or, having drawn it, did you then recognize it as such?

Let's return to the topic of clothes.

(Kim: When I was a kid on the south side of Chicago I was for a short time one of the best dressed kids because my mom bought me some nice clothes from Brooks Brothers. Then I decided that I should dress like I was poor so that I would not get robbed.)

Wow. How old were you? Was being robbed as a kid, based on the way you were dressed a reality? How old were you? Were you ever actually robbed? What did they take?

(Kim: Maybe from age 10 through 16...though I wore jeans and old shirts for most of my adult life...until I became dean.

No I was never robbed, though our house was on a couple of occasions. My mother was frantic about us being out after dark.)

Kim: Also my grandfather wore ragged work clothes and it drove my grandma crazy (she was a English aristocrat and he was a Russian peasant). I thought that was cool to bug her.

My mother always wanted to buy me a Brooks Brothers jacket and I wouldn't let her. I thought it was a waste of money. After she died, I bought one to wear her memorial service. I have it here to wear for the rehearsal dinner, which is for Josh's wedding.)

Do clothes hold any memories for you? Do they bring up any particular feelings when you wear them?

(Kim: I now wear a lot of my dad's clothes. I really like to do that. I miss him a lot since he just left us 1 1/2 years ago.)

When I am presenting at a conference, I usually want to wear something really familiar, even if it may not still look all that great. If I am going out on a limb with my talk or what I am doing, I want the cloak of the familiar.

(Kim: I have no interest in clothes...)

Why do you think that is? Do you think it is a,---- (God help me and smite me for this generalization, especially when I am talking with you)---, do you think it is a guy thing?

(Kim: It was also a University of Chicago thing...that if you were thinking about what you were wearing you weren't thinking. And it probably came from the days when all intellectuals were socialists and identified with the proletarians.)

(Kim: ...though I'm dressing better.)

Why are you dressing better if you have no interest? Does it have anything to do with your change in position, with your newer role as dean?

(Kim: Yes, it has to do with being dean, but also with the idea of finally growing up, which is what one has to do who is an administrator (something I vowed never to do (growing up).

I remember visiting my brother in California a few years ago and being shocked to see that he was now sending his shirts out to the cleaners. And was wearing chinos to the lab, instead of jeans.

With the advent of the dry cleaner, it seemed as if he had crossed some major threshold of responsibility. I asked him about it and he said he needed to look less like a kid. He has always looked young. And he has always gotten big responsibilities at an early age.

Kim: I have some polyester pants that I was really into for a short time because they don't wrinkle.

What is the matter with wrinkles?

(Kim: It is the tell-tale sign that your clothes are not clean.)

(Kim: I bought a few pairs.

Now I can't stand them.)

Why?

(Kim: They feel itchy, especially when it is warm, the they represent the kind of person that I don't like or trust.)

(Kim: I don't like polyester because it feels like some bizarre fabric chemical on your skin. It doesn't breathe. And I am big on breathing.)

But I also like it in a weird way because it is so artificial. Its very artifice is part of its appeal. Like eating Cheese Whiz.

Why should it matter?

(Kim: because we don't want to feel uncomfortable or out-of-place.)

Now, those are the real questions . Are you saying that essentially we are pack animals? We just want to blend in?

So much for the individual and critical thinking.

(Kim: I've been bugged recently by conventional liberal thinking—i.e. that Bush is bad, that we shouldn't be in Iraq, that "no child left behind " is bad, that unions and minimum wage are good...etc. I'd like to find a liberal who really has come to those conclusions independent of his or her friends.)

(Kim: Linda says that most people want to be a little bit on the edge. Though some people are even afraid of doing that...they don't want to break any rules.)

Why don't they want to break rules? What do they think will happen?

(Kim: Ostracism)

Later,

Joan

Monday, Dec 26, 2005

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