Friday, November 28, 2008

Mr. Rogers Had it Right

When I was still a high school teacher and had to dress all nice and professional, the first thing I'd do upon arriving home was change my clothes.  And we're not just talking switching out the office pants for some jeans; I had to strip myself of all items that had been contaminated by school air, including jewelry, socks, and depending on how I was feeling, my bra.  Even on the days when we could wear jeans to school, I had to change my jeans when I got home (because, of course, there are school jeans and non-school jeans).  The only thing that could carry over from school day to night was maybe my underwear.

See, my school clothes were my costume, and the second I could stop pretending to be a put-together mature adult, it was imperative that I change back to my real self via my real clothes.  This is not to say that I disliked my school clothes -- they were fine, for school clothes.  But, I needed to keep the two identities separate, and the clothes were the medium for my transition.

For those long four years, I thought that this was a hating-school thing.  I  fantasized about a future far-off job where I could wear my crazy-colored sneakers and my sweatshirts and track jackets to work.  I wondered what it would be like to live in a world where the work me and the non-work me were seamlessly merged into one. 

Now, I'm not so sure.  Two weeks into my new non-teaching job, I'm realizing that the changing-of-the-clothes has not stopped.  The second I get home, I still need to take off my rings, switch out the pants, and take off the button down shirt.  True, I might keep on the long sleeve shirt I was wearing underneath or even keep on the black socks, depending on how lazy I'm feeling.  The cooties factor of my work clothes has definitely decreased now that I'm not breathing in the same air as teenagers and school administrators.

And now, as I ponder my fantasy of wearing my bright yellow Brazilian track jacket with matching bright yellow Mr. Happy shoes to work, I'm realizing that Mr. Rogers and Clark Kent were on to something.  Granted, both men did have good reason to change their clothes: Clark Kent couldn't walk around all day in his Superman get-up, and Mr. Rogers had to change into his bum cardigan to comfortably check out the Neighborhood of Make Believe.  But, maybe their wardrobe changes also helped them transition into their taking-care-of-business psyches.

As for me, having a clothing distinction between my work self and my normal self has become a concrete way for me to mark the distinction between the two.  I still need to pretend to be a put-together rational adult at work, while I can spiral into a whiny self-centered kid who starts sentences with "dude" at home.  (It's possible that some members of the house in which I live might wish that I would leave on my work clothes/adult identity a little longer, but this request has never been made official.)

When I ponder the deeper meaning of this work self v. real self distinction for too long (that would be right about now, for example),  I'm soon wrapped up in the dilemma of how separate these two identities should be in the first place.  Should I aspire to have one unified identity -- where work self is real self?  Will I never fully a) either have a "career" or b) really like my job until there is no distinction? (Assuming that the only way to truly love your job is to get paid for doing your passion.)

But then I find myself at the what-am-I-doing-with-my-life question, and no one wants to think about that for too long.  After all, even Tom Hanks in "Big" had to wear a suit to go to work and play with toys.

So, for now, I think I'm okay with my 5:30 p.m. phone booth wardrobe change.  Then again, maybe the self that does my laundry will feel differently.  


Joan said...

Yes, an interesting reflection on clothes, which I can relate to. The other side of the coin for me is the struggle I have nearly every day figuring out what to wear TO school...and never resolving it well enough in advance. It's Friday evening and I came home with actually a little bit of energy to think about/do something else....but I am so much more comfortable after changing part of my clothes (even though really I dress pretty comfortably and wear my Dansko's nearly all the time....) every time I come home, I have to at least change my shoes (to get a message to my feet?)... tonight I am wearing some really comfortable almost pj-like pants.It's important to shed the work/you-gotta-present -a very specific persona and allow the more random self to breath. I have not seen reflections of that like yours. Yes, actually I did watch intently as Mr. Rogers put on that cardigan,.... I enjoyed your blog.

Love, J

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

YES. And this is why AA has Tri-Blend cardigans at the ready (whether they become home or work wear is up to you!). Garments. Never underestimate the power of garments to the role we play, says any acting teacher. ;-) There are "rehearsal skirts" even, these long black things people wear when doing classical stuff or whatever. But of course, especially for us clothing-caring sorts. I seriously still think that if I had to have a career where I had to wear suits to work every day, like proper professional clothes, I'd cry, freak out and have a huge breakdown. Like truly an identity crisis, and I do mean CRISIS. However we choose to swing it, clothes as they relate to the self are big things. I just saw a fellow improviser at aworkshop this past week. She was wearing an eggplant/plum colored purple shirt -- I commented on it, for it was a gooood color. She said it took her 10 years to wear that color, since it was the color of part of her mandatory school uniform (they have lots of that over here). So there you go, for what it's worth. Change whatever clothes you want, whenever you want. And YES, I barely act like an adult anywhere. And home, and more and more, I act not just like a non-adult but like a terrible-twos-toddler throwing tantrums left and right. So, starting sentences with Dude is no bad thing! LOTS OF LOVE! Looking forward to more blog, more more Naomi blog! Thank you for the awesome stuff, it SO brightens the day, and you brighten all of our days all the time!