If they asked me, I could probably write a book on my mistakes. Not that it would amount to a very interesting read. But then, I take a long time to admit mistakes and I am not ready to talk about most of them, let alone willing to write them down.
My “Closet of Errors” is an attempt to come to terms with some of those mistakes by honoring them as intentional, mostly because my closet is full of witnesses.
In the Summer of 1992, I went to León in Spain for a paid work placement wit immigrant communities. I used part of the money I got to buy this Junior Gaultier jacket on sale. It was a super sale. It cost me 2.500 pesetas, something like €15 today or, if you are to believe that some online vintage listings are accurate, €500. This witness still lives in my closet. I think I bought it because it was an unmissable opportunity to own a Gaultier piece (even if it was a little too small and it makes raising my arms a tad impossible) and because, in some way, it resonated with a watching, and loving, “Little House on the Prairie” when I was a kid. I think I haven’t worn it for at least fifteen years but it is not going to be easy to let this one go.
Having grown out of “Little House on the Prairie” and after a few years studying in the UK, my next Gaultier was a nod to Punk aesthetics and an attempt to keep some kind of Britishness with me. It’s now the property of someone living in New York. I though I was ready to let it go because I was selling it someone who would love it as much as I did. I wasn’t and I have the feeling that I didn’t sell it to the right person. I never got any feedback apart from the one in my mind telling me that, even though my unworn wardrobe can be an investment with an interesting return, it’s really not about the money. It is always about the lives I have lived wearing a particular piece, the lives I planned on living when I bought some other.
I planned, or better yet, I daydreamed a lot, and, in the process, started to choose the wardrobe to go with all the fabulous things I would be and for the grandiose life I would live. I have always missed places in time that I didn’t know and prepared for them. I dreamed of being an aristocratic bohemian in Marrakesh, a flaneur who spent the time reading books and being intellectually brilliant and aesthetically striking.
Our lived lives might become a protracted mourning for, or an endless tantrum about, the lives we were unable to live. But the exemptions we suffer, whether forced or chosen, make us who we are.
I was even ready to go dancing at Studio 54.
I got ready for all the fantasy going around in my mind. I prepared myself for a life of eccentricity and adventure. I groomed myself to be someone else. In the process, I forgot to get ready for real life.
The witnesses to my mistakes that still live in my closet are now stories written on small papers that accompany the items I’m ready to let go or in somewhat bigger posts when they tell the stories of a life that I can’t leave behind. They are the witnesses to whom I am becoming. As Adam Phillips wisely puts it, “we share our lives with the people we have failed to be.” There’s no escaping this, “we are always haunted by the myth of our potential, of what we might have it in ourselves to be or do. So when we are not thinking, like the characters in Randall Jarrell’s poem, that “The ways we miss our lives is life,” we are grieving or regretting or resenting our failure to be ourselves as we imagine we could be. “
Coming to terms with my unlived life(s) has not been an easy process. Sometimes I get the chance to perform one of those imaginary parts for a moment and live out real scenes exactly as I imagined they would turn out. In January 2014, I dragged myself through the polar vortex and went to the opera at the Met. As I should, wearing my, never worn before or again, opera coat. I will most probably keep repeating mistakes and collecting witnesses to those repetitions.
If the unexamined life is not worth living, it’s equally true that the unlived life is not worth examining.
Dinah Washington, I could write a book
Adam Phillips, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life
New Order, Bizarre Love Triangle
Parker Palmer, Naropa University Commencement Address