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For ‘Lit Undressed: Fashion In Literature’…My Favorite Bellbottoms

Gentle Readers and Friends of Flesh and Republished Blogs,

We have been tied up in many projects of late and the Fall performance by the Lit Undressed group of Omaha, NE, looms large in our headlights. The Omaha Lit Fest, a wonderful event and one of the many cultural offerings to be found in the ‘NoDo’ (Northern Downtown) area of Omaha, is partly funded by the Nebraska Council for the Arts, as well as many other community-minded organizations. Omaha seems like a great place to live. The more we hear about it, the more we find to like.

The event takes place October 13-15 and rehearsals started this week. Here is a brief summary of the event, this go-round:

The focus of this year’s (downtown) Omaha lit fest is Silk & Sawdust, the heart and mechanics and literature. Authors will participate in panels, readings and discussions to lift the corner of the curtain on their methods and processes, and look at the literal tools of production—including book-making and design, and our curious nostalgia for the typewriter.

Included in this theme are fashions of famous literary characters—from the Tin Woodman’s heart of silk and sawdust in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, to Jay Gatsby’s pink rag of a suit in The Great Gatsby, to Jane Eyre’s grey and black gowns and Virginia Woolf’s explanation of fashion in Orlando, fashion plays a major role in many characters’ roles and sometimes the storyline.

When presented with ‘fashion’ as a subject, we immediately blogged about old shoes…a more recent blog which can be found by searching on this page. This time, we decided to write about…well, you can read the title….

My Favorite Bellbottoms

Getting my money’s worth out of the Nehru shirt I purchased was no easy feat. It could not be worn to catholic school because it would not work with a tie. Too nice to wear while out playing in the fields, there was no way my parents would let it see the inside of a church. If the flag of rebellious dress was to be foisted, the bellbottom jeans became the banner to wear.
There were many styles to choose from. Colored denim, red with black patch pockets, for example, were becoming passe’ as the low-riding, button fly, hip-hugger style with the slit pockets and wide flare took top wrung on the fashion ladder. I stuck with the zipping fly, being more practical than trendy. ‘Landlubbers’ was the brand of choice for the hip. Headshops and other counterculture stores sold them, while you could buy Wrangler, Lee and other popular brands, not near as cool, at Sears and other ‘straight’ stores.

Landlubber Jeans also advertised in Rolling Stone, so they had to be good. Dylan, Robert Plant, the Allman Brothers, the Rolling Stones…they all wore Landlubbers.
Eventually, the company expanded from jeans to corduroy offerings.
Worn correctly, they had to be long enough…preferrably, slightly too long. The ideal pair had the heels worn away at the back bottom seam from being tread under bare feet, platform shoes or a pair of Dingo boots with a metal ring on the side, as advertised in Rolling Stone!
Being well over six feet tall, I preferred Dingos and often enjoyed the sight of a friend caught in mud in the middle of a cornfield, trapped by thick sole and heels which had settled into plowed Earth as we stood in a circle and puffed. Enough said about The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys!
At first, bells were available in denim only, which presented a quandry in that denim jeans were ‘play clothes’. For school wear, we had the loud plaid pants with the wide cuffs which fell across the top of our platform shoes. Play clothes stuck around until replaced when worn out. School clothes needed to be new each year. This led many to cut straight-legged jeans up the inseam to the knee and insert a triangle of fabric to make the leg ‘flare’ into a ‘bell’. My mom was not going in for this. It was by skipping lunch and saving bus money by hitch-hiking to school that cash to get a store-bought pair became available.
At the headshop, stacked in neat piles between the vintage WWII gear, which was also en vogue, the slacks beaconed. The wide-wale corduroy, low-rise, slit-pocket with the little flowers, known as ‘Keith Richards pants’ due to a popular photo of him wearing them, proved the perfect ticket to trendiness. Not denim, the nuns could not say a word about them being jeans, just like they could not argue that the black ‘tails’ I kept hanging in my locker for daily wear was not a ‘jacket’. In retrospect, certainly I looked like an ass. This was done purposely to rile the ‘squares’ and the nuns, especially. They had dominated what we wore for all of grammar school and now, in high school, we could fight back. Brandishing the only tattoo on a student – a homemade starfish on my left hand – I had already trumped authority at 16 years of age. With hair to my shoulders, they didn’t even notice the earring. This was 1973.
The Nehru sold at a garage sale but those cords wore down to a frazzle. They attracted attention. Every non-polite epithet for ‘homosexual’ was hurled at me while hitch-hiking in such style…but when you are young, you like the attention! Now, everybody has tattoos and earrings. The starfish was surgically removed around 1990 and the earring came out long before. Both became too popular among the same group they used to annoy. Too old to wear three pairs of boxer shorts, and the tops of my jeans at mid-thigh to reveal them, soon I begin my 55th year…that may sound old to some but I would not be young again, if given the chance…I would miss growing up in the 1960s… things were much more fun.
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Hush…People Are Getting Naked In Omaha

                                                                                          Listen Closely, 

         Gentle Readers, 

        And you may be able to hear people getting undressed in Omaha, NE.

They are getting ready for tonight’s performance of Lit Undressed: The Spirit of the Female Beats.

Your Humble Narrator, was lucky enough to be asked by the Group to write an original composition for the event.  The piece, which appeared on this blog a month or two ago, was written about the strength of my mother and will be performed on stage this evening.

This is an honour for Your Narrator, as anytime someone requests me to write for them, I take it as the most high sort of compliment.  The East Coast is a far fly from Omaha, so the author will not be able to see his work as it is read.  It is very gratifying, though, to have the attention of such intellectual activists.

There is a reason for all of this, which is best spoken by Timothy Schaffert, Director and Founder of the Omaha Lit Fest.  As he posted on the LU Facebook page:

 
With much respect to nude performance artistry such as Marina Abramovi, and performance poet Hedwig Gorski, Lit Undressed is a project combining nude performance with fiction reading with an emphasis on literature beyond the naked.

In September, in cooperation with (downtown) omaha lit fest, the first Lit Undressed performance ensued at RNG Gallery. “Undressed/Untold: A Body/Text Event” featured original fiction written by contemporary published authors, as well as excerpts from classic literature in reference to the body in some respect. The writings were read aloud by six male and female readers to a sold-out audience of 50. Selected readers were also adorned with body-text-paint.

When one reads a book, they are immersed into the atmosphere of the piece; not in their real-world anymore, not clothed or unclothed, not worrying about looks or happenings; simply naked in all senses. This project also hopes to encourage comfort with all body-types and forms.

“We at the (downtown) omaha lit fest are very intrigued with the project Sally Deskins has developed—the first of what I hope will be many events under her “Lit Undressed” title. Sally, an artist’s model, first approached me with an idea—she wanted to read literary works, naked, for an audience. She’d heard tell of such events in other cities, and wondered if it might work in Omaha.

Why not? Though the mayor of Omaha once run Gypsy Rose Lee out of town before she had a chance to fan even a single feather, that was more than seventy years ago.

I loved the idea of the silent artist’s model finally speaking. No longer would she (or he—Sally’s event includes men) stand still as a figure-lesson in a classroom, a series of shadows and lines inspiring another person’s art, but rather she’d become the art and artist herself, the storyteller, the centerpiece not just of our gaze and technical scrutiny, but of our attention, our interest, conveying emotion, ideas.

It eventually became clear, as the project developed, that Sally’s interests were in the tradition of any number of body-related art projects, from literature itself (in among works by contemporary authors, the artist’s models at the “Undressed/Untold” event at RNG Gallery will also read excerpts from “Frankenstein,” Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” and the very adult work of the children’s book author Roald Dahl: his classic horror tale “Skin”) to the films of Peter Greenaway and Matthew Barney, the body-altering performances of Bob Flanagan and Orlan, the organized-civil-disobedience of photographer Spencer Tunick, and the body/text experiments of author Shelley Jackson, who famously oversees an ongoing fiction project for which more than 2,000 people have had single words from her short story tattooed on their skin. The new works for “Undressed/Untold” include those by Omaha authors (the sensual realism of Trilety Wade, the confessional erotica of Karen Bowerman, the poetic discord of Tim Siragusa, and the playful and meditative poetry of Deskins herself) and by authors with Omaha roots (Rachel Shukert and Zachary Shomburg). The new work includes short-short stories and poems that ask you to see familiar tales (“The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Goodnight, Moon,” to name a few) in unfamiliar ways.

But, of course, beyond all that, there’s the simple fact of the nudity (live!), which, in our neo-puritan culture, we tend to relegate to the dark halls of the peep show. To be naked in a public space is to collide with our sense of the private space, and it’s that marriage of the public and the private that so often gets folks’ panties in a bunch. To unclothe, to allow your body to be read—scars and all—may be the most primitive and powerful expression of all.”

So, if you are in the area, go and enjoy it. I wish i could!!!

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From the Beat Cookie Jar – One for Lit Undressed

     Kind Readers, thank you for bearing with us while we took the time to adjust some personal bearings and get a whiff of Spring, which seems to be right around the corner.  We have been doing quite a bit of writing over the past year and are sometimes both speechless and gratified at the comments and encouragement.

     Most recently, we were approached by Sally Brown Deskins, who is the force behind the performance art/literary celebration, known as Lit Undressed.  It is a performance combining nude performance with fiction reading with an emphasis on literature beyond the naked.

     Here is a quote from the ‘info’ page Lit Undressed has on Facebook, “But, of course, beyond all that, there’s the simple fact of the nudity (live!), which, in our neo-puritan culture, we tend to relegate to the dark halls of the peep show. To be naked in a public space is to collide with our sense of the private space, and it’s that marriage of the public and the private that so often gets folks’ panties in a bunch. To unclothe, to allow your body to be read—scars and all—may be the most primitive and powerful expression of all.”

     The first performance, to a sold-out house, was held in September.  My work will be featured in the March 31, 2011, performance at the RNG Gallery in Omaha, NE.  Proceeds will be donated to VIDA: Women In The Literary Arts.  As a longtime feminist, I am very proud to be a part of the performance and am very flattered that Ms. Deskins requested a piece of my work. 

     It is an excerpt from a section of the novel your Humble Narrator is writing, called Egypt Cemetery.  We also thank LU for allowing us to use the piece on the blog before it is performed.  This is my contribution:

Two Mothers

I dream of two mothers, lingering in memory, both the same woman.

First, in conscious mind, sick mother who once held family together with the imperfect paste of love, crying, “Help! Help! Help!” for hours every night.

White, shivering and naked on her deathbed when I walked into the room, we should not have to see things like this.  White, naked, skinny arms and legs splay from torso fattened by denial of caretakers who equated eating to recovery.

Like a baby bird, fat in the middle, spindly wings, scared hoot owl eyes wide,  looking astonished at the world they have forgotten.

Big Moose Lake, black and white photos from the 1940s – toned, tanned, inebriated and athletic – firm breasts under white t-shirt tucked into khakis, sleeves rolled up taut brown elegant arms, grasping and oar with long, strong fingers.  Natural beauty and victim of the Great Depression, she sits in the passenger seat of the Chrysler Newport, chili dog, beer, cigarettes and lighter in lap, telling me, age eleven, how to steer, brake, take the corners as porcupine, bobcat, coy-dog, badger, timber-wolf and chipmunk watching stars, pinecones, 1969 gravel shoot meteorite showers from rear wheels.

“Be a ringmaster at a circus, “ she told me, “you would look good in that tall hat,” and always suggesting other odd career choices – television weatherman or rock and roll drummer – never the traditional picks, like doctor, lawyer or moneyman.

Those were my two mothers.

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