Sunday, August 23, 2009


Listening to: Raindrops by Regina Spektor
And I just got back from: driving The Cherohala Skyway with my brother. Gorgeous!

I am wild about Project Runway. I don't know how I've made it so many months without it. I languished away with nothing to watch for a year* while Lifetime got their act together. At last, the date was announced. I was in a great mood all day Thursday, waiting for Project Runway to start. I was not disappointed. I am so bowled over by how creative those designers are. I don't sew. I'm not very trendy. Not an expert at putting an outfit together. It doesn't seem like the kind of show I would be into, but I am. I think I've finally figured out why:

The focus is on the process of creation.

The whole season revolves around a group of artists trying to figure out what their vision is, what they want their art to mean, and how to create the best piece of work they can possibly create. Not to go nerd (though I do it every time I post), but as the season progresses, and you see designers develop their signature look, it reminds me so much of what writer types refer to as "finding your voice". And then when the designers put the clothes they've spent hours making on their models, only to realize the clothes look dumb, that reminds me of the moment you know you have to trash pages you spent all night trying to fix. In the end, a few designers make it to NYC, where they send their gorgeous art down a runway for critics to scoff at, or drool over, or applaud. I would imagine that experience is as surreal as waiting to see if publishers want to publish your book, or if they want to drop kick it from the nearest window.

The season gets more intense as it goes on. The contestants cry. They sweat. They almost pass out. They stay up all night working. They doubt themselves. They talk about the years before Project Runway, when they lived in shabby apartments and took weird jobs and unpaid internships so they could pursue what they love. They walk around sleepless, moody, and inspired.

Sometimes, when they least expect it, their haphazard last minute adjustments turn into something beautiful. Then, other times, the work they love most is verbally barfed upon by Nina, Heidi, and Michael. One day you're in, the next day you're out, as Heidi likes to say.

And when they're out? Then they stagger back to the design room with bruised egos and broken hearts, ready to make it work all over again. The desire to create something new, and better, is already humming in their hearts before they even leave the runway. I think every artist has felt that weird addictive pulse, that little buzz of longing that comes with visualizing a new project. It is a terrifying, and awesome, moment when you realize your art is such a driving force. When you realize it isn't just a hobby anymore, but what you do. What you'll keep doing even when people tell you how much you suck.

I like Project Runway because it is consistently entertaining; it's funny, creative, and fast-paced. I think Tim Gunn is an excellent teacher (and he seems so poised and kind). I think the designers are cool. They have heightened personalities, unique visions, great back stories. Sometimes they're weird. Sometimes they're hilarious. Remember Santino's spot-on Tim Gunn/Red Lobster impression? Or Chris's wacky laugh? Or when Christian Siriano said girls who wear six-inch designer heels but can't walk in them are "a hot mess"? Fierce!

Mom likes Project Runway too. My mom is a gifted seamstress, so she speaks the language more fluently than I do ;). Slight tangent: I was born with a bone disease that manifests in my body in quirky ways. At some point in elementary school, my spine curved (scoliosis is what the cool kids call it), so my chest is kind of an odd size compared to the rest of my body. You wouldn't know by looking (I don't think ... unless you have x-ray vision). Like I said, it's just a little quirk (I don't want you to picture me limping around like Quasimodo screaming about "the bells ... the bells"**). However, when it comes to dresses, I can almost never find things that fit. Dresses are awful. Prom was a time of utmost dread for me, as most people don't wear jeans and cute shirts to prom. Also, my two best friends were, and are, super pretty. They could have gone to prom wearing garbage bags and looked gorgeous. I was fairly certain I wouldn't look gorgeous no matter what I wore. I had planned to skip it. Then, a really sweet, handsome guy friend asked me to go with him. And I kind of wanted to go. (Note to you: if you didn't go to any of your high school proms, or aren't planning to, fear not. I don't think you're missing out. I had more fun sitting around watching movies with my friends than I had at prom.) So. I was determined to try to find an awesome dress, even though I knew it was a thwarted mission from the start. It was awful. Before I could melt into a puddle of tears and taffeta, Super Mom came to the rescue. She made me a dress that looked so pretty.

When I was a kid, she also made my Halloween costumes. They were divine. If I can find a picture of the Rainbow Brite costume she made me, I'll post it here. I felt like the coolest kid in school the day I wore it. One year, I told her I wanted to be Sleeping Beauty. On Halloween, she gave me a dress that looked just like the one Princess Aurora wears in the Disney version. And she got me a gorgeous sparkly crown to go with it.*** Mom made my dresses for homecoming and prom. She made my sister's wedding dress. She made cute skirts, shirts, you name it. She was really really good.

We didn't eat at the table much when I was growing up, because the kitchen table was always full of her patterns. (Don't worry. We were, and are, close even though we didn't do the Betty Crocker Around the Table Bit. The family who watches TGIF together stays together.) I saw so many cool projects come together: pieces first, then a stitched, pin-spiked mess, then a gorgeous dress. I also saw what happened when the vision didn't work. Sometimes mom would totally pin an outfit together, only to take it all apart again and rethink it. Which leads me to two resolutions for this obnoxiously long post:

Resolution One: I don't think it's coincidental that, as I think through all this Project Runway business, I'm piecing together a book. Me and this WIP, ugh. We have really had it out this weekend. Most days, I'm confident it blows. Then every now and then, I think it's so cool I can't wait to share it with people. Some days I want to hide it. Some days I want to strut out of the house waving it around in the air screaming, "Look what I made!"

Resolution Two: I am working on a bit of a bias here, but I'm confident my mom could have been a hot designer if she wanted. She was sewing by the time she was a teenager. My favorite story is about the jacket she made from a Vogue pattern: funky and 70's chic with an over sized hood. She dressed so earthy-glam when she was my age. Made her own clothes, which is so fantastic. Made clothes for other people, because she's sweet like that. She could have made endless lines of clothes, clothes that made women feel confident and pretty. Instead, she made Easter dresses, Halloween costumes, and a gorgeous pink prom dress. She made me feel confident and pretty. I didn't feel like I was settling, like I had to go homespun because I wasn't off the rack gorgeous like my best friends were. I felt like I got something unique and gorgeous, something that was all mine. Couture, in the best possible way.

It takes a heap of talent (and drive) to look at a piece of fabric and see a red carpet gown in there somewhere. Or to look at a blank canvas and see a landscape. It takes talent to write a whole, big, awesome novel. To make a new film. To work out a new story board. To practice until you make every note sound perfect. The process of creating is fantastic, and really hard, and it takes a ton of talent and determination.

But, I don't think the most talented artists are the ones who can paint landscapes or write bestsellers. I think the most talented artists in the world are the ones who look at normal, ordinary, every day people and see a story there. Then, with a pen, or a paintbrush, or the gentle pull of a bow across steel strings, they bring that story to life. They make other people want to listen. And, in doing that, they convince a very ordinary person (or one very insecure girl) their story matters.

My mom did that for me. She still helps me put the pieces together. Tim Gunn and his bevy of snazzy designers are cool, but my mom is the most talented artist I know.

* I watch How I Met Your Mother. Hilarious, that. And I'm starting to get into The Little Couple. Have you seen it? I wish Bill and Jen were my friends.
** I do that sometimes when the phone rings because I think it's funny. But otherwise I tend to walk like your average clumsy 20something.
*** Also, I wore white Reeboks. I bet Princess Aurora, in the Disney movie, wore white Reeboks too ;) And it's interesting to note that, as I got older, Halloween was not about pretty princess stuff as much as it was about hilariousness. Example: one year a group of friends suggested we all go as Star Wars characters. Do you know who I volunteered to be? Like waved my hand around in the air begging to dress up as? Yoda.


  1. "And, in doing that, they convince a very ordinary person (or one very insecure girl) their story matters...My mom did that for me. She still helps me put the pieces together."
    Oh, Natalie! This was so sweet it nearly made me tear up. (Maybe I'm just, um, what would Tim Gunn say? A hot mess? A candy-deprived hot mess.)
    I have scoliosis too! I wasn't born with it, though - I've had it since I was 12 and it used to make me really insecure about wearing dresses too.
    I haven't watched an episode of the Little Couple yet, although I see ads for it on TLC all the time. I'll have to try and catch it.

  2. Hey Sarah! It is a-okay to be a candy deprived hot mess around here ;) Also very cool that you can relate on the woes that come from trying to find a cute dress. It's still awful. I still avoid buying dresses if I can :) Why can't jeans be formal wear?! I wasn't born with scoliosis either ... but it kinda sounds that way in this post. I'll go back and re-work that part. I think most kids who have the bone thing I have develop it at some point. I was probably around 12 too when my dr. noticed it. I remember writing about it once in Brio and getting a bunch of letters from other girls who have scoliosis too. Awkwardness is less awful when you know you aren't the only one experiencing it. I think :)

    I also think The Little Couple is really, really good. In most ways, they're just a typical cute, young couple. But the way they adjust to the world is really awesome to see. In fact, I wish I'd seen it when I was younger. Jen is such a confident woman. I caught one episode where she had to ask for something to sit on at a restaurant. The interviewer asked if she felt embarrassed doing that and she said, "No. I want to enjoy myself." I think there's a great message in there for anybody who has ever had to cope with some kind of physical issue. Also, he is very sarcastic and funny. Let me know what you think if you see it!

  3. I totally had that star-shaped Rainbow Brite backpack doll carrier papoose type thing. In fact, I'm pretty sure I had two. Once my mom made me a "Fall Family Festival" costume that seriously turned me into a walking Raggedy Ann, down to the head full of yarn (a Mickey Mouse hat that she literally covered in scrapts of red yarn). It was brilliant. Red striped stockings, red button nose, frilly apron... it may have been the greatest costume ever.

    Right now I'm looking for the makings of a Zelda dress. Also, I dressed up as a Jedi to see Episode 3.

    Even if Aurora didn't wear Reeboks, Annie in Father of the Bride totally wore white tennis shoes in her wedding. With the sparkly shoelaces. Which is redemption enough for me.

    So are you as strangely excited about Models of the Runway as I am? I feel like it's America's Next Top Model without the Tyra factor.

  4. Ashley, Father of the Bride is one of my favorite movies! Also, I remember your Jedi picture. You looked adorable! I was waiting to see what the consensus was on Models of the Runway. I'll admit, I find Top Model weirdly addictive (I found a marathon of it once and was hooked ... "Smile with your eyes!"). This one could be fun too. Let me know what you think of it.

  5. That's so nice to hear about the creativeness and talent of your mom. Handmade clothes are (usually, unless something goes seriously wrong, LOL) so much cooler than store-bought clothes. I loved that article Brio had about a year ago with pictures of all the things some girls had made.
    We don't get the channel with "Project Runway," sadly (we have the cheapest Dish package that consists of 50 shopping channels and 10 children's ones...and TVLand, thank goodness). Since I started sewing, I caught some of a marathon of it at my grandparents' once, and it was really interesting.