A dressmaker’s nightmare

When I was thirteen one of my older brothers asked me to be
a bridesmaid at his wedding.  His
wife to be had invited her neighbour’s sixteen year old daughter and I was to
be the younger bridesmaid in place of my older sister who was too old to fit
the bill, for reasons I still do not fully understand. 
My older sister was hurt to be overlooked in this way and I
felt … triumphant is the wrong word. 
I don’t remember wanting to get one over my older sister – four years
older and we were not in the same league – besides I felt hurt for her and a
little apprehensive for me. 
I come to this story this morning out of a sense of
apprehension.  For weeks before the
wedding I worried that I might cop a cold sore, and that my face would become
an unsightly mess just as I was meant to look my best. 
On top of this I was in that in-between stage of
development.  The dressmaker complained
to my sister in law to be that I was a dressmaker’s nightmare.  My cup size was in between.  If she took a fitting now two months
before the event she’d have to allow for the very real possibility that by the
day of the wedding I’d have grown a full cup size. 
I stood in my petticoat as my sister in law to be and the
dressmaker considered the possibilities.
‘Just buy her an oversized bra.’ 
Do you remember that time in your life when any mention of
your body in public was mortifying?  
I blushed. 
At thirteen years of age my breast development was such that
my mother did not consider a bra necessary yet.  I had longed for one, not out of any bodily need but more
because I had wanted to feel more grown up.  I did not want this matter discussed, however.  Mine was a secret longing.
The bridesmaid’s dresses were in a yellow satin with a rough
texture in the fabric that shone. 
My shoes were white.  My breasts were pointed under the hard shell of my oversized bra and as I walked up the aisle first in line of the
wedding party I could see my brothers’ eyes out on stalks.
I feared they might say something later at the reception, but they did not.
Apprehension is the order of the day.  I am about to take a trip to the Blue
Mountains to spend a week at Varuna with the aim of immersing myself in my
writing.  A small group of us will
come together under the mentorship of Robin Hemley to advance our
books, our projects, whatever we might have on the boil, and I am frightened,
excited, and fearful of what might transpire.  
Will I seize up? 
Will I write a load of crap? 
Will I use my time productively? 
For those who don’t know, Varuna is a writer’s retreat in
Katoomba, nestled in the beautiful Blue Mountains in New South Wales.  
I leave before six am on Monday and
should arrive around one, after taking a plane to Sydney and from there a train
to Katoomba. 
I tell myself not to think too much about it, just to go and
while I’m there to forget about everything and everyone outside of my
writing.  Can I do this?  Can I so immerse myself in what seems such
an indulgence, such a longed for indulgence. 
I will not need to worry about the needs of another, except
when I ring home in the evening and check that all’s well at home.  I will not need to cook
or to clean.  I will not need to
otherwise work in any other way than to write – a joy greater than being a
bridesmaid even if I cop another cold sore.   

21 thoughts on “A dressmaker’s nightmare”

  1. I'm not sure I have any experiences that mirror the one you begin with here. I have been a best man at least once but I'm struggling to think if there have been any other occassions; how sad is that? I think I was my brother's best man when he got married the second time but I can't rememeber so I probably wasn't. He wasn't my best man the first time and that hurt him much to my surprise (he told me later) because I didn't think we were especially close in fact when he came to visit me when we moved into that first flat the only reason I could think of to explain why he'd drive all the way there was that one of my parents was dead.

    I've never found it especially hard to put myself in a woman's shoes though so when I can say I can imagine how you felt at thirteen having your cup size discussed openly I can. I'm working on the edits for my first short story collection at the moment and most of the stories involve women. Carrie tells me I do a good job with the female perspectives. You'll have to judge for yourslf. I've just finished my fifth run through–i.e. I've read the book from beginning to end editing as I go–and I'm hoping this sixth read which I'm just about to start will be my last and I can then pass it onto Carrie to have a go at. I actually enjoy this stage of writing. I don't have to worry about where the story's going. All I'm concerned about is using the best language possible. I'll only be happy when I can read the book from beginning to end once and not want to change anything.

    I'm finding it a little hard to picture what you'll be doing with your book when you're away. To my mind a thesis is a book. I suppose it depends on who you expect to be reading it and it's not simply a matter of taking out most of the footnotes. Your problem is probably not that similair to mine: you already have the basic story (for want of a better expression) in place and now you're thinking about how best to say what you've already said.

    I've never been to any kind of writer's retreat though and can't ever imagine going. I don't share works in progress at all. I think, like you, a part of me is scared he'll be embarrassed if anyone saw my process. I'm not a real writer after all; real writers sit down and write 1000 words every day and rattle off a novel a year and it's all easy peasy. (That's my paranoia talking.)

  2. Picture this, a slightly under five feet tall, skinnyish girl wearing a bra sized 34B. at age twelve-thirteen. At least the rest of me eventually grew to match.

    I think a week in the Blue Mountains sounds like heaven!

  3. my comment is not about the writing retreat but about the mortification of 12 and 13 year old girls. On my 13th birthday I opened my present from my father to find a training bra. To say I was embarrassed is an understatement. This is not a thing I wanted to receive from my father.

  4. I so admire your writing and the way you put your thoughts together that I can't imagine why you would feel any apprehension, just excitement at the chance to take your work to a further level, especially with like minded people around you.
    Having said that, I enrolled in a creative course once and have never forgotten the confused bewilderment on the faces of the two tutors when i was explaining the (very simple, i thought) idea behind a piece I had created – and the dull lightbulb 'oh' that followed.
    Needless to say I did not finish the course but have had constant validation of my visual/textile arts abilities from many others.
    Just write, Elisabeth.
    Karen C

  5. I don't think any so-called 'real' writer finds the writing 'easy peasy' when it comes to pulling all the pieces together in book form, Jim.

    I heard a radio program with Ian Rankin last night and he was talking about Scottish crime fiction. A fascinating interview. He reckons there's not much crime fiction as such out of Scotland as a genre though he talked of the variations in literary writing that could bee seen as such. He also talked of the absence of female crime fighters in Scottish crime writing and about his own hesitation in making a female his protagonist. He doesn't have your confidence in getting the female perspective it would seem. His accent reminded me of you.

    I look forward to reading your next book of short stories, Jim. You seem prolific to me who has yet to get that first book out. To be accurate, the thesis does not count. It is a book but with a readership of maybe five people, ten at most and many of those beyond my three examiners and two supervisors would have skipped what I agree are the boring, albeit compulsory, bits.

    No doubt I'll post about the writing retreat on my return.

    Thanks, Jim.

  6. I expect the blue mountains will be heavenly, River. And as for the sight of you as a young girl/adolescent, I can imagine it. There were girls like that in my time. No doubt there still are. Those who develop early and have to bear the pain of being different from their peers, until their peers catch up.

    Thanks, River.

  7. Oh dear, Ellen, to me that borders on abuse – a father who gives his young daughter a training bra as a present is certainly behaving somewhat inappropriately, I'd say. My girls won't let me give them underwear of any shape or form as public presents. Even as young adults they find it mortifying. Imagine that for a child. It must have been dreadful for you – the epitome of shame inducing behaviour.

    Thanks, Ellen.

  8. I'm excited as well as apprehensive, Karen and as the time gets closer to leave the pleasurable excitement increases. My husband and daughter are joking about my eagerness to go, given I'm not leaving till early tomorrow morning but I've packed my suitcase and computer bag already. They're standing at the door. I'm like a kid about to go off on holidays.

    As for that creative class of yours, it sounds dreadful. A good thing you didn't finish it. And good too that you rose above the experience to produce in your own right, without that awful negative criticism of incomprehension that can be so destabilizing.

    More fools them, for not understanding you. And as the saying goes, doing well is the best revenge. Not that you would have wanted revenge but it helps to feel exonerated.

    Thanks, Karen.

  9. Envy away, Anthony. It's one of those rare pleasures we all crave from time to time. You might go on a painting retreat yourself one day, if you haven't already done so. It's such a joy.

    Thanks, Anthony.

  10. A writing retreat! It sounds delicious. Have a wonderful time, with nothing to focus on but your writing. The bridesmaid story brought back memories of my own, in many ways.

  11. Bridesmaid's stories have a way of reviving memories for most of us I expect, Juliet, even those who've not had the pleasure. There's something iconic about the position, even for observers only.

    Thanks, Juliet.

  12. Other than my sister, who writes and edits a trade magazine, I don't know any writers. Going to a retreat and meeting some would be nice. But the more I think of, though, it would also be scary. Not only might they critique my writing, they may just critique ME, period!

  13. A very late response here, Kirk. I'm sure the others on a writing retreat would not judge you too harshly. Writers by and large are eccentric types, at least those in my experience are that way inclined. You'd probably fit in well. Eccentric and reclusive. You need to desire a degree of isolation in order to get the writing done. I reckon you can't write well in a crowd, at least I can't. Too much distraction.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  14. I have made a copy of the photo where you have left ‘the hand’ showing – and have surgically (well, digitally) removed said object. If you would like the updated copy, please let me know.

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