I’m reading a great book right now! I’ll rephrase that. Of the six or seven great books I’m reading simultaneously, one relates to the following story I have to share.
I’m reading “I Can See Clearly Now” by Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of my favorite authors. I’m reading it on my Kindle, on my phone via the Kindle app, and I’m listening to it on Audible in my car as I drive north, south, east and west for my various adventures and social engagements.
In a recent chapter, Dr. Dyer tells the story of a final exam he took in a graduate course where he’d studied, as I did in college, Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs and “self-actualization”; the highest need. The professor gave the class a question and asked them to write an essay, giving them thirty minutes to complete the assignment. The question went something like this, “A self-actualized man attended a party. When he arrived everyone was in slacks, jackets, and ties. The self-actualized man was in jeans, a t-shirt, and athletic shoes. What did the self-actualized man do?” The entire class wrote their essays, all taking nearly the entire thirty minutes, filling page after page with carefully constructed details. When the professor returned, he asked each student to read their essay aloud. Each essay was roughly the same, stating that the man acted on confidence and didn’t feel self-conscious about his non-conforming attire. The professor told the class that everyone, in jest, had failed the exam. The question could be answered in exactly three words; he didn’t notice.
Self-actualizers, among many other characteristics, have a comfortable acceptance of self and others. They are also reliant on their own experiences and judgment, they are independent and don’t rely on culture and environment to form opinions or views. A self-actualized man would not make notice of his attire in comparison to the other party attendees. There would be no comparison of self to others; the self-actualizer is completely fulfilled, comparisons of self to others are unnecessary.
I went to a party this weekend, a masquerade ball, to be exact, at a popular winery in Sonoma. I was invited to the function as a member of a MeetUp group I am active with, a women’s networking group. I saw in the excerpt describing the party that it was a costume party and quickly scanned the list of attendees. A great group of gals were planning to attend, so without reading any further, I clicked “Yes!”, added the event to my calendar, and purchased the $65 ticket online, as one of the very few details I did read said the event was likely to sell out fast. I was committed.
A couple of weeks before the event, the same group of ladies had an impromptu happy hour gathering at a restaurant nearby. I attended and we all chatted about many things over snacks and sparkling wine. With the masquerade ball fast approaching, the topic of costumes came up. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a procrastinator and I had only a few very vague costume ideas in mind. I had not even begun the process of deciding, making, acquiring, or purchasing. When asked, I mentioned that I had a great black dress that I have worn as a costume, playing the role of Morticia Addams from the Addams Family. I also had in mind a zombie school girl outfit I could assemble from wardrobe items on hand. The group organizer informed me that the masquerade ball was actually an eighteenth century masquerade ball and that our costumes should be reflective of that period. She then mentioned that her costume was going to be a twist on that theme, and would be “steam punk”. I am aware of “steam punk”, and had a quick visual image of how she might incorporate that with an eighteenth century ball gown.
I wasn’t too worried. I happen to have an entire storage unit full of beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. Okay, only the top layer of my storage unit is beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. I really need to go through that storage unit and get rid of stuff, but, thank you “universe”, for making me a procrastinator; I haven’t purged the ball gowns. You just never know when you’ll need a formal ball gown, right? They were my daughters, from a youth group she was active in during high school. Fortunately for me, I’ve shrunk, deliberately and with considerable effort and discipline, over the past several years and there is a good chance theses ball gowns will fit me. If not, there is, somewhere in that storage unit, an old Jessica McClintock dress in a very forgiving size that I’m sure I can make work. While I totally embrace minimalism, there are still remnants of the former quasi-hoarder lifestyle I escaped from a half a decade ago. Like ball gowns and dresses from the 1970’s. The universe works in very mysterious ways, or, perhaps, it’s just a freaky coincidence. Anyway, I’m not worried, in the least, about having a costume for the ball.
The day of the party arrives. I’ve selected the best fitting dress of the lot, and, of them all, my all-time favorite. I’ve made my own mask, which I’m quite proud of, it matches the unique orange sherbet color of my dress precisely. I am feeling so beautiful and confident and perfectly outfitted for the event, I can hardly wait to arrive. In fact, I am so eager, I arrive a full forty minutes early. I select a very strategic parking space in the gravel lot so I won’t have to walk too far in my lovely sherbet orange, ornately sequined, taffeta and tulle gown.
I sit in my car and wait for my girlfriends to arrive. And, as I sit and wait, I observe other early arrivers as they emerge from their cars. There is a man in a powder wig. Excellent. There is another man in a top hat, he looks like Abraham Lincoln almost! Perfect. A woman exits a car in black slacks and a purple and red striped tunic top. With a mask. What? More people begin to arrive and woman after woman after woman, I observe in slacks, maxi dresses, and LBD’s (little black dresses), some, quite slutty. Cute, but slutty, and, most definitely not eighteenth century ball room, masquerade ball, style dresses. I am comparing my brilliant orange, sparkly affair with the outfits of all the other women I see. I am near frantic. I glance at the clock. I live on the very western edge of Napa, if I push the speed limit, I could make it home, change my clothes and be back before the festivities begin. I seriously consider it. But, then, I remember, my girlfriends are all going to be dressed appropriately for an eighteenth century masquerade ball. We’ve discussed this. I’m cool. I hang. I continue to watch. I continue to watch and to compare myself to every other female who arrives. After about one hundred LBD’s, carefully paired with stiletto heels and a cute mask, I see one woman, about ten years my elder, arrive in a period-appropriate dress. Ok.
I never see any of my girlfriends arrive, but, it is getting darker and I am trying to observe most of this action in the rear view mirror of my car. I check the MeetUp app to see if anyone has posted their arrival in the comments section. Nothing. I see several more LBD’s arrive and no other period-appropriate dresses. Again, I glance at the clock on my dashboard; if I left right now, went home, changed and drove back, I’d be 23 minutes late for the official beginning of the party, which is known as fashionably late. I’d be fashionably late and I’d more fashionably fit in.
Why do we have such an innate desire to “fit in”? I am consumed by this need and why it isn’t at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I don’t know. I think “fitting in” fits in to “love/belonging” and “esteem” rungs in Maslow’s hierarchy. But it isn’t at the top. Apparently, I’m not a self-actualizer. Yet. That’s a crowd I’d like to fit in to. Sigh.
More LBD’s, more black maxi-dresses, all with masks, though. Hoo-fucking-ray for the masks! None of them are orange, though, like mine, they’re all black. I seriously consider forfeiting the cost of the ticket and just going home, having a glass of wine, and continuing my study of self-actualization. I check the MeetUp app again to see if anyone has commented. That moment when you realize you’re the only one in bright orange taffeta and tulle.
The party begins in a few minutes and the organizer has commented, “Here!” Much like my RSVP to this event, I send of a rapid fire response, “OMG! Everyone is in LBD’s and I look like the frickin’ queen!” No reply. At least I have ridiculously dressed friends at the event, they’ve somehow eluded my watchful eye in their corsets and bustles, their taffeta and tulle, their colors and sequins. I am emboldened. A little. I extricate myself from my Civic, which is no easy feat. The tram has arrived and I step aboard. There are four rows of seats in the tram, each wide enough for three humans, unless, of course, they are in a period-appropriate dress. I take up an entire row and am trailing orange sherbet colored tulle behind me as we speed up the paved drive towards the winery.
Everyone on the tram is in black and modern attire, except one woman, probably twenty years my senior; she is in a period-appropriate dress. It’s black, though. But, at least we can both fret with our hoops and corsets and bustles, exiting the tram, in tandem.
The tram pulls up to the winery where a crowd has assembled, awaiting the lowering of the chain across the entrance. The party has not, apparently, officially begun. I gracefully slide off the tram seat and alight on the ground. My taffeta and tulle catch up with me several seconds later, in their brilliant sequined orange. There is a hush over the crowd and every head turns. “Hello.”
I hold my head up high, I smile, I make eye contact, and I frantically look for a recognizable face. Where are my ridiculously dressed friends? Where is the wine?
I find the wine, thank the lord. Our group organizer finds me, in her “steam punk” dress, which is actually an LBD with some anitique-ish looking accessories that could be argued as period-appropriate. She looks so gosh-darned cute, and sexy, and pretty, and I look like the Great Pumpkin from the Charlie Brown Halloween special. The organizer brought her friend with her. I’ve met her before, she’s super fun and funny and cute, with a delightful accent. I suck at accents, but it’s from somewhere cool, I’m certain. She is in an even L’erBD, with lace and leather and barely covered body bits, and a mask, of course. More wine, please.
I am having a very difficult time navigating the crowd with my very fluffy skirt. My daughter is a full four inches shorter than I, so I am struggling with why the skirt is dragging on the floor for me and it didn’t for her. I’m not good at physics, or trigonometry, oh, wait, that’s triangles, geometry, then, I guess, but I think it has something to do with the circumference of the hoop. Pi, or the square root of pi, or some derivative of, I don’t know. I do know that people keeping stepping on my tulle train which immediately halts any forward motion I am attempting. My daughter’s lovely pumpkin dress cost $500. I know, I bought it, and I really, really, really don’t want to ruin it, though it is highly unlikely anyone will ever wear it again, anywhere. My mom, ever ready for the worst case scenario, which, in my estimation, just paves the way for the worst to manifest, left, on the kitchen counter, for me, a ten-year old bottle of chemical wonder called “red wine stain remover”. So far, they have only poured bubbly, here. Per the event program, red wine is on the third floor. I love red wine, but I may seek to avoid, at the event, and just imbibe in the bottle of Zinfandel I have on my desk, when I get home. I may just stick to the first floor, all bubbly, and I won’t have to navigate the stairs or commandeer the tiny elevator, me, my skirt, and I.
My gal pals and I head for the Bubble Room, on the first floor, where they remove jackets and other outer garments to further reveal the beauty of their eighteenth century as interpreted by the twenty-first century costumes. And masks, of course. They both sit, easily, in the chairs. I move to sit in a neighboring chair, my ass hits the seat a full several seconds before my abundance of tulle settles around me. I’m sure everyone is watching the spectacle that is me. I smile confidently and adjust my chin a bit higher. Though, whether sincerely, or out of sympathy, several people have remarked on my dress, in a complimentary manner. The employees behind the wine bar, the hired dancers and musicians, and other paid individuals, are all wearing full skirts and flounces, they appear corseted and bustled, but aren’t, actually, as am I. I wonder if the other guests assume I’m hired entertainment. I decide, if that is the assumption, perhaps I shall oblige and act as though I am hired entertainment. I shift, nervously, smile more confidently, and raise my chin even higher. I am probably grimacing, by this point, and that I notice the raw beams of the ceiling suggests my chin may be held a bit too high, at the moment. I readjust.
I have two questions; where are the other gals from our group, one, and, what are they wearing, two?
We three polish off our bubbly and decide to explore the rest of the venue. We make our way out to the foyer and there are two or three other guests milling around. Where is everyone else? There were dozens of folks milling around outside before we were allowed to enter. We finally locate both the stairs and the elevator at the back of the room. We collectively opt for the elevator. When the car arrives, I gather up my yards of orange tulle and squeeze into the back of the elevator. My two friends manage to negotiate their way in, and, surprisingly, the doors close without hinderance. We exit at the second floor where the program states there is a fortune teller. There are two or three guests milling about, looking puzzled and a little bewildered at the lack of festivities, as are we. The fortune teller occupies a table and has a person seated across from her. I favor telling my own fortune, I sure as heck don’t want some acne riddled, twenty-something, making up a story that may seal my destiny. The power of suggestion is far too mysterious and too close to reality and manifestation for me to flirt with. We circle the limited space of the second floor, find no food and no wine and quickly retreat to the elevator once more.
We make our way to the third floor and as the elevator doors part we see where everyone has accumulated, not that there is a great crowd yet, but the dozens assembled out front prior to the party seem to have gathered here, on the third floor. There is food on a long table on one side of the room and every color of wine being poured a bar at the edge of the room, oh, and a juggler. I am hungry. I ran twelve miles earlier in the day and have metabolized all I’ve digested thus far, and then some. I approach the table. The mask I made, the beautiful glittery, sparkly, sequined mask I made, I decided should be of the sort that is on a stick and could be raised and lowered in a coy fashion. I did not want some mask strapped to my face for the duration of the party, smearing my eye shadow, messing up my eyeliner, or mashing my mascara enhanced lashes. I didn’t want my face to sweat. So, I am trying to manage the now empty wine glass I was told to “hang on to”, a mask on a stick, and a napkin, as there seems to be no small plates to amass finger foods upon. My very full skirt doesn’t quite facilitate approaching the buffet completely. I am a yard or so away, kind of leaning in to snatch bits of food perfectly positioned near the edges. My “dinner” for the night consists solely of some overly bright red meat like substance, some kind of salami, and thinly sliced deli variety turkey, which I despise. But I’m famished, and drinking, and must later drive home un-inebriated. I make a reach, snatch a few morsels of cured meat, retreat in an orange taffeta and tulle flourish, and scarf it down, approach the table again, and repeat. After a few repetitions, I feel adequately nourished, though not totally satisfied. What I’ve ingested thus far in food and beverage hardly accounts for my $65 admission. An occupational hazard, I try to not cost things the rest of the evening and focus on just having some fun.
There is music. A DJ. A rotund, middle-aged, DJ. He is playing music from “my era”, music popular in the 1980’s. I glance around at all the beautiful people dressed in small bits of black fabric, with masks. They all look and act older than me, but are probably “from the eighties”. There is a smattering of very beautiful, very young people, but they are loving the “old school”. There is dancing happening. This makes me happy.
I’m feeling a little the third wheel, at this point. The MeetUp event organizer and her “+ one”, aka guest, have known each other for nearly twenty years. They are very close and share two decades of shared experiences, stories, and inside jokes. I smile confidently, adjust my yards of tulle, and raise my chin a little bit. We do the girl-dance-thing, you know, when a bunch of girls really want to dance and there are no men who want to be caught dead dancing. In other words, every dance and every date and every party I’ve ever attended. We dance in the customary circular formation, each of us acting as cool as possible and yet keenly aware of just how good a dancer the other ladies in the circle are. There is unspoken competition here, but, I am disadvantaged. When in a very short, very form-fitting LBD, it is quite apparent how the hips and torso are being moved to the beat of the music. When your hips are adrift in twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle and your torso bound in very rigid boning, movement is not perceptible to the casual observer. I must overachieve. I must overcompensate.
The next song is the “Nay Nay” song. I don’t know the name, or the artist, but, thank god, it is more contemporary than the litany of eighties songs. I love eighties music, but I’m craving something from the current century, I want to break out of the mold of old. The DJ demonstrates the Nay Nay dance and all the LBD’s follow suit. I do my rendition of the Nay Nay dance and only my arms appear to move. I take it up a notch, or two. I’ll admit, I am now having fun and our awkward little dance triangle has dissolved and I am on my own, free to express myself in the art of dance. I win the contest. The DJ awards me a CD of some sort I have yet to listen to. I am presently, actively, looking for the appropriate electronic equipment on which to listen to whatever has been recorded to such antiquated a medium. I mean, I have a turntable, but I don’t have a CD player. Get real. But, it, the CD, is recognition, it is my prize, and it is shiny, like my sequins, so I am happy. I’ve concluded that I won the Nay Nay dance contest, not because I was the best dancer, though I was, but because in the sea of LBD’s, I was the only recognizable dancer.
At last, we locate the other three gals from our group, also wearing LBD’s, with masks, of course. They’ve made their way to the third floor and the party can now, officially begin. They all compliment my dress. I smile confidently and raise my chin a little higher. And we dance. We dance, we dance, we dance. I am on the dance floor and every song that comes on is my jam! Sometimes there is one other lady dancing with me, sometimes two, sometimes three. The only constant, is me. I dance and dance and dance. I dance the night away and I have an absolute ball. At the ball. With my mask, of course. In fact, I dance for such a very long time that I danced to Abba’s Dancing Queen, not once, but twice! It’s my jam. The only song more my jam is the Cupid Shuffle; I love this dance, I rock this dance, I did not need to remember to smile confidently and raise my chin higher, I was high and all smiles doing the Cupid Shuffle; me and my skirt. I have, by this time, figured out exactly how to move so as to make al twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle do amazing, swirly, things. I am the belle of the ball! I am the bright spot in a sea of LBD’s, the poor dears, all blendy-blendy in black, all in high heels, limping around, doing that “wincing walk” thing. You can tell when a girl’s feet hurt in her outrageously high stilettos, you can see how their stride becomes shorter, eventually a mincing little shuffle, and with each foot fall, a stifled moan and a wince. I have the most comfortable pair of flats I own on, never perceptible beneath my bountiful skirt. “Orange” you having fun?
The crowd of “older people” (people my age) is beginning to thin. The younger crowd has been rendered motionless by their aching feet. It is nearing the bewitching hour, ten o’clock. The wine has stopped flowing and the party trays are no longer being replenished. There are four of us “old girls” left, still dancing, still partying, still having fun, one has over-indulged. No worries, though, the three other gals have Ubered their way to the party and are sharing the cost to Uber, once again, from Sonoma, back to Napa. I opted to drive myself, and my twenty seven yards of taffeta and tulle, in my Honda Civic, to and from the party. I have been prudent and am in fine shape to drive the twenty minutes home. I make certain the most inebriated girl, being the one responsible for summoning the Uber ride, has successfully done so. There was a period of time in which she was lost. I finally found her in a bathroom stall changing into Birkenstocks. Well, if not Birkenstocks, something equally as ugly and at least as comfortable. You see, I could have worn Birkenstocks all night and not a soul would have known. I am feeling so right and so proper and so winning in my big, bright, orange dress. I am feeling like the Great Pumpkin, in fact. Once I got the three reunited and was certain Uber was en route, I headed for my car. I decided not to wait for the tram, but was feeling so exceedingly well, that I ran to my car. I ran, me and my skirt, all twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle, and as I approached one couple from behind, the female of the pair, limping pathetically along, they turned to see what the fast footsteps behind them were all about. There I was, skirt gathered in hand, running, comfortable but cute shoes still on, down the festively lighted path, towards the parking lot. They called out, “Cinderella, did you lose your slipper?” To which I replied, “Yes, have you seen it? It’s glass, you know!” And I continued on. The woman complimented, “Such a pretty dress!” I responded, “It’s my daughter’s! And I must hurry, because if I don’t have it back by midnight, it’ll turn into the great pumpkin! Oh, wait …” And I scampered on, me, and twenty seven yards of pumpkin colored taffeta and tulle.
I had so much fun, and so many compliments, I overcame my insecurities of being different, of being “the Great Pumpkin”, and, in fact, found that the being different, if comparisons need be made, actually enhanced my experience exponentially. I may not yet be self-actualized, but I am so grateful I didn’t slink home and seek to conform. I had a ball, at the ball. With a mask, of course, in twenty-seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle; the great pumpkin!