[I started writing this last year, and, in the spirit of cleaning out my drafts folder, refuse to change any of the anachronisms. You’re welcome. Also, still in the middle of answering comments, but thought I’d get this out while it’s on my mind.]
I’m taking you to Sunday School today, reader: we’re going to talk about shibboleths. Now, the contemporary dime-store definition of a shibboleth is that it is a password, or a means of distinguishing one group from another. The contemporary dime-store definition sucks. Here’s how the story goes: We’ve got Ephraimites and Gileadites, who, much in the style of the Jets and the Sharks, do not get along very well and live separately (there was a war, a ford was captured, bing bang boom: we’re got a rift). The Gileadites have possession the neighborhood’s Jordan River crossing/s, so whenever an Ephraimite escapes Ephraim and wants to get out of Dodge, s/he has to pass through Gileadite territory. Ruh roh. The Gileadites, when faced with someone trying to make a crossing, say, “Cool. Just one thing: Say shibboleth.” Sad story, though: Ephraimites can’t pronounce it. Sadder story: the Ephraimites would then get killed. This is the Old Testament, after all.
What’s the moral of that story? The hell if I know, reader. I’m not a theologian. My point is, it isn’t that the Ephraimites didn’t know the password, but rather that they couldn’t say the word. This is not a matter of knowledge or skill, but one of basic, constitutive identity. Here, the individual was inextricable from his/her nationality. An Ephraimite couldn’t change into his/her Gileadite costume and call it a day. A shibboleth isn’t a way of saying, “I understand you,” but rather, “I am one of you.”
Bee eff dee, Charlotte! Actually, reader, HUGE eff dee. Let’s talk about clothes now. It’s on-campus recruiting sea-soooooonnnnnn! (That was my Oprah voice. The more I use my Oprah voice, the more like Oprah I will become. It is science.) I was in the waiting room this morning, waiting to be interviewed, and I couldn’t help but look around at my fellow applicants. Black poly-blend suits (no wrinkles, y’all), button-front shirts, black shoes, vinyl portfolios. I wore a navy wool skirt suit, a bronzed olive silk blouse, and kept my papers in a recycled paper folder that cost a nickel. That’s just how I roll, reader.
The first time I went to buy an Hermès scarf (which I mention specifically because I hate it when people are coy about this sort of thing. I bought a fancy scarf. I can’t decide if it is more obnoxious to mention it, or to avoid mention for fear of. . .seeming as if you bought a fancy scarf? I’m socially tone deaf, so forgive me, either way), I wore track pants and a heathered gray t-shirt. I was seventeen, and was so excited to buy myself something that nice. But, the people at the store were less excited about me. Well, not excited at all, quite frankly. Then after quite a bit of throat-clearing and my best attempt at eye contact and a level tone, a sales associate summoned this gem of a woman (truly), who was the regional expert in scarves or somesuch. She spent an hour with me, poring over the book, telling all of the scarves’ stories, and helping me pick just the right one. At the end, she handed me my bag and said to me, “Next time you come in, wear your scarf.” Shibboleth.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it is really difficult not only know that you don’t know a language, but knowing that you, being you, can’t speak the language. I cannot walk into a store wearing that store’s wares just because it will make the sales staff like me, or wear a poly-blend black suit (mostly because I’d sweat my makeup off) so that I can arrive wrinkle-free and banker-like to an interview.
This post originally contained parts of what would become “Difficult Women” and “Written on the Body,” and I suppose the issues overlap. Do we sew to transcend the shibboleths, the Gordon Gartrells, or do we sew in order to gain a whole new set of codes with which to operate? Am I the only person plagued by this question when I’m on Instagram? The difficulty is, for me, that the non-sewer world isn’t fluent in makerese (makance languages?), and this is where the problems start. (All that preface for this? Yup.)