Style imitates life imitates style

When is Enough Enough? : [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 28/30]

cart2This is day 28 of a 30 day New Year’s Resolution.

When I was 7, I got my first home game system, the Atari 2600. It already came with Combat and my parents splurged for Pitfall. Those two games entertained my brother and me for almost six months. When I was 9, I got my first Transformer, and it kept me occupied for, again, about six months. When I got my first record player, I had about three records, and somehow, those thirty songs kept me occupied for half a year.

You can guess where this is going. In the course of time, I collected many Atari 2600 cartridges, Transformers, and records. And in every case, the period of time between a new acquisition and the resurgence of my hunger for yet another acquisition would decrease.

The more I owned, it seemed, the less I had.


An actual photo of me in my clothes closet.

Now, I’m a grown-ass man, and I have many sweaters. And likewise, my first cardigans kept me pretty satisfied, for 6 months or more, before the sweater itch returned, so to speak.  In the grand scheme of things, there are worse things to be addicted to. I have known people brought to ruin by their addictions. The only trouble my morass of sweaters has caused is that my shelf space has been completed colonized, as if by Tribbles.

That said, I am aware that I need to keep an eye on this. And I know I’m in good company. The book Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough lays out some of the facts behind our insatiable hungers for what we already own (hint: we’re hard wired for it) and provides some strategies for dealing with it.

For me, desire has a shadow side, to be kept under control, but also, it speaks to a human need to grow, to be creative, to have options for expression previously unavailable. How are we, as people with many sides, many dreams, to make do with a limited number of anything?

  • tjanka

    The Buddhist “Wheel of Samsara” depicts the cycle of desire and satisfaction that is pretty hard to break. It takes some people a zillion incarnations to stop buying sweaters.

    To begin with, we might recognize that it is entirely too easy to acquire. Newcomers to style will discover a proliferation of discount clothing websites and apps designed to get merchandise onto your shelves as easily as possible – generally with one or two clicks. I have erased all of these from my iPhone. Once you start to wonder if maybe you have enough, you have more than enough. Erase the apps.

  • Next, try to build personal relationships with all the items in your collection. If you love what you have, you’re less inclined to want more. And we only love what we spend time with. Figure out what is your favorite whatever, and wear it a lot.
  • Only acquire quality items. Part of why we acquire new things is to address perceived flaws in what we already have, even if we don’t mean to replace the old, flawed items. It feels like a fix. A lot of clothing is made cheap, feels cheap, and won’r satisfy you – sort of like the quick fix of fast food vs. the deep satisfaction of a home cooked meal.
  • Be aware that satisfaction, like hunger itself, is fleeting. Easy come, easy go. Wheel of Samsara, anyone?
  • Take joy in abundance. But the actual number of anything required for “abundance” is lower than we often think. 1 or 2 are perfectly decent manifestations of abundance.
  • After taking a good, hard look at yourself, don’t judge harshly. If your collection brings you joy and isn’t hurting anyone, then it’s a hobby. Like many others. But you might want to make your other hobby “getting rid of things.”

The Dapper Teacher : [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 22/30]

me and mikeThis is day 22 of a 30 day New Year’s Resolution.

Mike and I were talking.

I’d sat down at his empty table to bang out day 21 of my New Year’s Resolution, and he struck up a conversation. After a few minutes of good shmoozing, I pulled out my card: Style For Dorks.

See, I’d meant to bring my magnetiCClassroom cards to Educon, but they didn’t arrive in time. Fortunately, I had my SFD cards.

Mike and I shared a good natured chuckle: what could be more polar than education and style? As it turns out, being a good educator and a sense of style have a lot in common.


Person vs. Persona

In order to survive in a classroom, and in order to be accessible, unbruised, and authentic, teachers (like anyone in a challenging, human-giving line of work) need a persona. Your persona is composed of the best parts of who you are, really – but only whatever is relevant to the classroom. It’s your best, most teacherly you. 

Mike and I talked about how a sweatshirt and jeans may be comfortable, but it won’t put the glide in your stride that will get you feeling ready for a challenging day, or which will broadcast these essential messages to the students: I am put together. Our class time, too, is put together. I care about the small things, and I care about you.

“I care enough to wear a uniform of excellence.”

At Educon, I’ve met brave, brilliant, inspiring teachers. Many of them are quite dapper, and many are as brilliant with trailblazing as they are with a blazer.

We teachers confront our fears and insecurities about our own human limitations and about the vulnerabilities of the next generation, daily. We use 99% of our brains. We give all we have.

And many of us show how much we care about putting together a great learning experience by putting ourselves together in the morning.

Here’s to the dapper teachers of Educon, 2.7.

Yeah. I did it with a selfie stick. [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 19/30]

lecturingThis is day 19 of a 30 day New Year’s Resolution.

The entire advertising industry is based on the idea that some spotless, shiny, pristine whatever it is suddenly materialized at just the right place, at just the right time.

Cars zip along shadow-dappled country roads, down hills past fields of wheat. 

Pats of butter melt on stacks of “hotcakes,” steam rising ever so gently.

Women eat salads and laugh.

It’s not that driving on a country road, breakfast, or salad-bonhomie is fake or false. These are three real-life pleasures. It’s that all three of these take real work to make them happen, and in reality, there’s always something rough around the edges. Country roads smell like cows. Hotcakes make my tummy hurt.

Salad-eating women are laughing at us for paying $5.00 for a bottle of canola oil, vinegar, and guar gum.

But advertising wants it to look easy and perfect.

surprisedThe fashion industry gives in to this, as well. Flip through any fashion magazine and see men staring off into the distance while leaning on a Vespa. Sure, the pocket square is in disarray in a display of sprezzatura, and there’s some 5 o’clock shadow, but the pocket square was put into place with a tweezer and the scruff is carefully cultivated.

Maybe there’s no way around it. Pictures of imperfection don’t sell suits.

But there is balance. Wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic philosophy, accepts transience and imperfection. Practitioners and artists who honor Wabi-sabi allow things to be, to do, to act according to their nature. And in the real, material world, nothing is perfect.

As a teacher, one philosophy I follow with students is not through sprezzatura – studied nonchalance – where every stumble is choreographed. Rather, I allow a bit of my rough edges to show. I am fully human. Fully adult, fully responsible, fully trustworthy, and fully human.

My approach to style is similar. Believe me — I’m not throwing on whatever, each morning, as styley-liars might suggest they do. I’m a dork and I’m honest, so I think about what I do and I admit it.

But I accept my own, inherent Wabi-sabi. In the past, I have flopped many outfits. And in the future, I will flop many outfits. Sometimes it takes a try or two before I’m willing to walk outside. These are not the outtakes of my Style Story – they are part of it.

How many parts of your journey to who you are, now, would you excise, in the name of perfection?

None, I hope.

pleasedWhich brings me to the selfie-stick. It’s hilarious. A stick to hold your camera so you can take a selfie? Brilliant comic-artist “The Oatmeal” gives it a well-deserving send-up, and certainly, the selfie-stick deserves a little ribbing. For that matter, so does the selfie.

But who has a professional photographer to follow them around while they practice sprezzatura? Who has a cobblestone street in their backyard to walk down while looking down at their watch? Who has a low, whitewashed wall to sit on, to while away the afternoon?

Not me. Not you.

And our arms are only so long.

Some of us take selfies because we’re real people without a photography entourage. We use selfie sticks because our arms are short and our girlfriend-photographers have a limit to their patience. 

And we take pictures and write because we celebrate life and style and all of the imperfections that make us human.

So do I use a selfie-stick?

To take selfies is human. To use a selfie-stick — divine.


dapperThis is day 18 of a 30 day New Year’s Resolution.

When I was a kid, I’d read the funny papers, eagerly, every Sunday morning. If it was Christmas or Thanksgiving or the 4th of July, most of the comics would know that. Even though, year by year, the round-headed kids never grew up, the orange cat never got old and arthritic, and the boy with the tiger never hit the awkward stage, on holidays, time meant something. For a few times a year, comic-wonderland and our earth-calendar aligned. Turkeys, Santa, Fireworks, even ballots — they all appeared for one day.

And then, there’d be some hanger-on, old-ass comic that would persist in its obliviousness to what day it was.

mlkToday was a pretty damn important day for this country. For me, MLK day is about hope and change and progress. But it’s also about not getting self-congratulatory. More work remains to be done than has been done, and for the time being, America doesn’t have a leader like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to point everyone in the right direction. We need to be putting 365 days-a-year’s worth of attention and effort into affecting change, but we’re obligated on this day to look not only forward, but also backwards in history.

I feel the need to drop a pin at the point of the connection of style and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement — because this is a men’s style blog and it’s MLK day and I will not publish the style blog equivalent of four panels of zany army-guys, frolicking on an army base.

Today, the style blogs should stand, remove their hats, and pay their respects.

boycott21.jpgWhich brings me to the subject: hats. As featured in pictures of MLK.

I recall seeing pictures of MLK in my high school textbooks, and while he has a face both kind and fierce, I recall being struck by the simple, dapper elegance of his hats. I was a teenager, easily struck by such things.

Later, as a high school teacher, bringing students to Montgomery, Alabama’s Bus Boycott Museum, MLK’s hats were the last thing on my mind. There was a message I needed to communicate to my students. It was urgent.

But an online image-search brought that high-school memory back to me.

If I didn’t know who MLK was, if I didn’t know that he was one of the most important leaders humanity has ever known, if I didn’t recognize his face, then this is what I could guess from what he wore:

  • mlk and cskAs the years passed, the brim shortened, reflecting the changing styles of the 60s. The man under the brim was a person who kept up with the times. While some people gaze only towards the future, this man did his work very much in the present.
  • Some values, like dignity and grace, are worth hanging on to, keeping above the brow, between the eyes. And when doing the most important work on earth, it’s worth being aware that all eyes are on you. Present a persona that lends gravitas to the office.
  • Sometimes, form is as important as function. The words we choose to use are as critical as the vision they convey. No form is as fine as a fedora, and no one could craft words like Dr. King.

I offer this as a small tribute to this immense figure. All year, let us do the work of bringing his dream into reality.

onbusBut for one tiny moment, this style-writer wants to give a salute to what Dr. King wore on his crown.

Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Styliness: [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 17/30]

This is day 17 of a 30 day New Year’s Resolution.

I have another secret writing identity. I’m not only a Style BLogger. I’m also the author of an ed-tech blog, magnetiCClassroom.

Ssssh! It’s a secret.

Well, now you know. Anyhow, I wanted to write tonight about “fail-forward” and “design-thinking.” Design thinking is a process which some groups go through in understanding a problem to the point of empathy, creatively designing solutions, and rationally studying the pros and cons of each.

If design-thinking had a Patronus, it would be a glowing pad of Sticky-Notes. Design-thinkers throw ideas on the wall and see what sticks. So to speak.

And they speak about failing as I speak about the time I went to science camp in middle-school. It can be awful, but if you embrace it and get it out of the way, (fail forward), you can learn a great deal from it.


Fail Forward?

I mention this because as I left Milwaukee to come home, my father pulled, from out of a stack of photos, this gem.

It’s pretty bad.

The hat is an Uncle Bill hand-me-down, the shirt is big and billowy in the sleeves, and you could fit two fingers-breadth between my neck and the collar.

What else? Now that I’m on a roll: the tie is shiny silk, the vest is too big, and the 90s goatee would be more acceptable if it wasn’t already 2002. I won’t say anything disparaging about my father’s outfit, but I do think the ortho-boot adds a little something to the look.

To finish, the pants are too baggy, and I’m wearing huge, round-toed Dr. Marten’s slip-on boots.

I sent a picture of this to a friend, and I said, “Can you believe how bad this is?”

And instead of laughing with me, he said: “I see that as baby-steps towards how you dress now.”

Indeed, I remember so many times putting on an outfit and wishing it looked good, but knowing it didn’t. I kept trying. I failed and sometimes I succeeded.

In the picture, yes, I was failing. My dad, maybe, too. But we were failing forward.


10 Years Later: Older and Wiser. And yet, maybe more youthfully-styley?

There is no growth without failure, and there is no failure without trying.

And there is no way to be styley without experimenting. So.

Get ready to fail. And have fun with it.

The Meaning of Mid-way Aged: [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 15/30]

It takes midway-age to rock tweed.

It just might tale midway-age to rock tweed.

This is day 15 of a 30 day New Year’s Resolution.

I did the math. I’m halfway through my New Year’s Resolution. When this write-o-rama began, I was sitting in a “casita” in Austin, feeling hungover, feeling happy. Fifteen blog posts later, the topic du jour has shifted from cutting fashion corners to death and dying. My New Year’s resolution is middled aged, and it is aware of its end.

Speaking of middles – both my Uncle and Grandfather died around their 80th birthdays. And while this doesn’t mean that I will die when I’m 80, nor that I think of myself as m-m-middle aged, given that I turned 40 this year, it puts things into perspective. Namely, for my New Year’s Resolution, and for my life, there may be a long, long, long time to go, but it’s not going to be any longer than what’s already been. I’m not middle aged, but I’m mid-way aged.

This brings to mind some of the ways people react to hearing that I’m 40. I get a lot of “no way”s – a lot of “you certainly do not look it,” and more recently, from a retail salesguy, “Congratulations!” A couple of days ago, someone said I looked 20, but I’ve seen pictures recently of when I was 20, and I look like a strange, long-haired, gothic Yentl. I don’t look 20, and I’m glad I don’t look 20.

I didn't have the eye to put a look like this together when I was 30.

I didn’t have the eye to put a look like this together when I was 30.

While most of the dudes rocking selfies on Instagram are 20 or 30-something, I enjoy being mid-way aged. On the one hand, when I wear a suit, I don’t look like an intern, wearing something handed down from his big-brother. I look like I belong in an outfit with gravitas. On the other hand, when I wear something casual, I make a point to wear something with clean lines and bold colors. I don’t want to wear blingy sunglasses or “streetwear” like the midway-aged guys I’ve seen lurking around Hollywood.

I want to take advantage of having survived this long, with a slightly higher budget for clothes, with a sharper eye, with a more discerning taste, and most important, with the confidence that younger men lack, the lack that keeps any young man from looking like he belongs in a red-velvet ball-room.

I plan to eat lots of kale. Exercise regularly. And wear what I look good in, long past mid-way age.


You can dress youthfully without dressing like a kid.

The old people sitting around my Aunt’s house after the funeral agreed: growing old sucks. I sympathize with their achey knees and their non-stop trips to the doctor.

But midway-aged? It’s pretty great.

11 Things I Learned From a Funeral: [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 14/30]

My little cuz: it took a funeral to meet her. A gift from beyond the grave...?

My little cuz: it took a funeral to meet her. A gift from beyond the grave…?

This is day 14 of a New Year’s Resolution.

1. Some things really are forever.

2. It’s possible to be an agent of change without even being alive.

3. Jewish comfort food is actually comforting.

4. The most important conversations are one-on-one, but they might require a little extra effort: eg. sleeping on a couch in your clothes or sitting in a freezing-cold parked car.

5. There are three sides to every story, and most of them don’t really matter.

6. The biggest gift you can give is listening. The second biggest gift is just being there, silent.

11. Thinking about people you've lost makes you think about other people you've lost.  Uncle Bill: Circa 1960.

11. Thinking about people you’ve lost makes you think about other people you’ve lost.
Uncle Bill: Circa 1960.

7. Crying is cathartic and healing and should be done with great gusto.

8. Family has more to do with who you call “grandpa” than genes or marriage.

9. Real, live teenage cousins are even better than students.

10. Not even forever is forever.

Order Amidst Chaos: What Do You Wear For Your Brother’s/Uncle’s Funeral? [30 Days Of Writing: Episode 12/30]

Like father, like son.

Like father, like son.

This morning, I came downstairs dressed for my Uncle’s funeral.

I’d assembled a cozy sweater and blazer and a tie that my parents had given me some years back. It wasn’t the usual black suit, but as I’ve said, my Uncle wasn’t a black suit sort of guy.

That, and I knew it would be a long day. I dressed for comfort. Not comfortable, per say, but comforting.

My father was dressed, already, in a look brilliantly executed, as if from the pages of a classy Brooks Brothers catalog. Structured and calm and beautifully put together.

It was one of the longest days in human history. We both cried many times. But as our respective styles suggested, I was, indeed, comforted.


After the hardest part of the day: a cup of Joe.

And my father was classy and beautifully put together.

Two Uncles In My Genes: 30 DAYS OF WRITING. EPISODE 10/30

chairThis is day 10 of a New Year’s Resolution.

If you’re keeping up with this 30 day write-o-rama, you know I’m in Milwaukee doing the serious business of grieving the passing of my Uncle in the way that Jews do: we eat. We tell stories. We nag each other.

My father and mother picked me up at the airport, we bought some frozen custard (my Uncle’s favorite), and we brought it to my Aunt and Uncle’s condo. There, in the living room sat my Uncle’s chair. I suppose it’s no longer actually my Uncle’s living room or my Uncle’s chair, but memories linger. Old Jewish texts describe the soul of the deceased person leaving the body and kind of… hanging around for a while. The mourners say kaddish (the original, not the Ginsberg poem), we’ll wait a year before we dedicate a tombstone — we make space for those who are gone to be “not gone.” 

Which in turn reminds me of the joke: What’s the difference between how Jews and Goyim say goodbye? Goyim leave without saying goodbye, but Jews say goodbye and don’t leave.

Well, jingoistic jokes aside, my Uncle was there, and when I said goodbye (and left), I shouted to the room full of relatives: goodnight everyone, see you tomorrow. Goodnight, Uncle David.

billAnother Uncle visited me tonight, one who’s been gone/not gone a long time. My Uncle Bill died suddenly, over ten years ago – I got the call while I was leading a group of 9th graders on a ropes course.

Supposedly, I am a lot like him. He had an odd-ball sense of humor, adored jazz, and was nimble with a drawing pen.

When my parents and I got home from the shiva, tonight, they told me they had a gift for me. Inside a flat package was a picture frame, and there, in black and white, was a well-dressed man. My parents had found the old photo in a drawer and had it restored and framed.

“We know that family is very much about sharing genes,” said my father. “But it’s also very much about sharing jeans.”

tieandsweaterbillselfonlyv8Behold the family resemblance. Scary, huh? The striped sweater, the jeans, the wide cuffs.

To my Uncle David; may every comfy chair I sit in remind me of you. And to my Uncle Bill, may every joke I tell be… off the cuffs.

Give Your Shoes a Fast Upgrade: NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION — 30 DAYS OF WRITING. EPISODE 8/30

laces2 This is day 8 of a New Year’s Resolution.

In the 1950s, industrialists were interested in studying productivity and the effects of lighting.

They added extra lights to the factory floor, and productivity increased. Once the study was over, productivity slumped.

The experimenters took away light to see what the effect on productivity could be. Again, a surge – and when the study was over, a slump.

As it turned out, whatever the experimenters did increased productivity.  And conversely, when the workers knew that the observation was over, that no one was looking at them, productivity tapered off.

cool shoes and lacesIt seemed that light was not the factor. Being watched was the factor.

Let’s say you’re not going to go out and get new black dress shoes. But you wouldn’t mind a little attention below the ankle, so to speak. How do you turn up the lights and add productivity? Get noticed?

Like the scientists did – make a change, a simple one. Put on some colored laces.

Start with blue or red. Later on, yellow, green, or purple. See how it puts an extra glide in your stride.

You can drop a lot of money, unnecessarily, on colored laces, and you can also get them super cheap… and they’ll look cheap. These are right in the sweet spot, the price of a cappuccino, from Johnston and Murphy.