In the Looking Glass

Today I’ve decided to take a wee break from the scheduled programming of Monday Man. Don’t fret, gentle viewers. He shall return next week.

This morning I woke up and looked into the mirror. Then I promptly flung myself backward into the door, banging my head on my towel rack. Who was that monster?!

Okay, so the above paragraph was exaggerated. And I do have a bit of an excuse for the fact that I have not showered in a couple days (you can’t smell me, nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyaaaaaah-nyah). I’ve been quite sick, and when I haven’t been at work, I’ve been curled up in bed, smacking anyone who tried to move my tissues out of reach and guzzling water and Clementines with equal fervor. I will shower at some point today, fear not.

That little mirror incident prompted some interesting speculation. I do not intend to show up in New York City in my George Mason sweats and my rather-shlubby-though-infinitely-comfy Victoria’s Secret long sleeved tee shirt in two weeks, so that little look-see in the mirror made me think about how I am going to present myself when I am paraded by scores of agents at the conference.

And then it made me think about something I’ve spent many years avoiding: the concept of image.

I am in partial denial that I’m even writing this blog right now, and if you ask me about it tomorrow, I might ask what on earth you think you’re talking about. Just so you know we’re on the same page here.

I’ve always been more than a little bewildered about the idea of a person’s “image.” What I mean by this is of course the public face of a person of note — or a person of no note, for that matter. It’s the part of us we show to the world. Whether we mean to have one or not, it’s there. And it’s why a sudden change in image can leave people baffled and sometimes catty. People can be awfully silly about image, which is the main reason I’ve mostly shunned it. I wear what I want and don’t care much about fashion.

I saw LCD Soundsystem in concert a few years back. The front man came out in sweats and a raggedy tee, and I said bravo. But in hindsight, I’m not really sure what he was trying to say by doing that. Probably that he wanted to be in bed — and in that case, why did I give him my money?

Whether I agree with the fundamentals of having an image or not (I think I’ve just said that I don’t), I also believe that to an extent, we have to live with the way things are and work with the system until we have enough influence to buck it. You can caterwaul about being a rebel all you want, but most people won’t care to listen unless you’ve already established yourself as someone with some credibility — unless you have an image they believe. Tricky, tricky.

I took a bunch of art classes when I was growing up. I always got mad at all the rules. I found them boring and stifling — but I really wasn’t that good at art. I found later that all the abstract artists who will sell a dot on a canvas for $200,000 all had to learn how to draw a tree, how to draw in perspective, and how to follow all those rules before they could get away with breaking them. I’m sure even Picasso could have drawn a convincing, realistic (albeit boring) rendition of my living room. He learned to draw reality before bending it.

That’s more or less what I concluded about image. No matter how far my measly influence someday reaches, in order to make it go anywhere, I have to show some concern with the image I put out into the world. Though it makes me cringe a bit to say so, I can’t air my dirty laundry (not that I really wanted to do that, or that there’s anything scandalous to be found). I won’t tirade about politics or any major hot button issues, because I know well enough that I enjoy a wide variety of fiction by diverse authors, and I don’t feel like alienating someone who might enjoy my fiction just because they happen to be a different color on the political spectrum than I am.

Back to the mirror. Because I have a uniform at work, I wear pretty much the same thing every day. Dark rinse blue jeans, black button down. Ponytail.

I know. How utterly boring. I have a whole closet full of clothing, but I don’t often wear it, because I’m pretty much a homebody when I’m not at work. That’s what happens when you plunk an introvert into a very extroverted job description. Regardless of the fact that my George Mason sweats are my usual home attire (do you pity my husband yet?), I do have a sense of my own style. So as I prepare to go to this conference in two and a half weeks, I am thinking about what sort of image I’ll be exuding. I write urban fantasy. I write vampires and witches and shapeshifters and seers. My worlds are filled with magic and some intrigue, a bit of romance, and a lot of grit. Because of that, it might be disingenuous for me to show up in a florally pink fluffball of a dress with four inch pumps and a designer poodle. (I’d have to rent the poodle.) (And the rest of it, for that matter.)

NOT the image I'm going for. This particular image via starpulse.com,

Does this mean I have to show up in fishnets and pleather with chains hanging off of me? No. But the more I consider this, the more I think that the way I dress should be a factor in how I present myself to agents. I like to wear vintage-y stuff sometimes, but I like lace and corsets and edgy little tops. I haven’t gone shopping in quite a while, but this seems to be a time to drag my sweatpants-bedecked bum to the mall. I’ve also called my hairdresser, who has most likely forgotten my existence in the last two and a half years.

My hair was a different color or three. Also please pardon the face -- I was imitating a movie character on purpose that time, for reals.

My hair won’t be returning to that length (at least not yet…), but I’m aiming for something a little more interesting than straight down to my waist. In short, I’m prepping more than just my writing for the conference. It’s weird. I know.

Ever since I started writing, it’s been something I do by myself, alone in a room, usually in varying stages of fashion. Now I’m about to venture out into the light of the writing business world, and I have to remind myself that writing is a business where I am the brand. So I better be nice and shiny.

Have any of you writers thought about the image you put out there? Are you as weirded out by that as I am? Readers and non-writers, what do you think about image? How does it apply to everyone’s lives?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts so I don’t feel quite this vain. 🙂

I’ll leave you with a goofy video. Enjoy!

Teen Girl Squad 3

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About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on January 2, 2012, in writing business and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Kristin McFarland

    Yes. I’ve thought about it. (Shame.) Like you, I spent most of my nonworking hours at home, in sweats. I’ve recently weaned myself from guys’ t-shirts to girly t-shirts, which I’m told is an improvement.

    I’ve gone all over the place with my Image. (I feel it should be capitalized.) Briefly I had a black pixie cut and a nose ring. Now I’m back to long hair and my usual jeans and t-shirts. But should I got to a conference this year, I’ll get cleaned up, too. Just like getting dressed up for any job interview, I’ll present my best self for meeting with agents.

    I had a college professor who HATED when her students wore pajamas. She always looked gorgeous and professional for her classes, even at 8 a.m., and it irked her when her students didn’t even care enough to put on jeans. It hadn’t occurred to me that it could be disrespectful to her to dress like a bum in her class–of course, I never wore pajamas to class anyway. I did jeans and t-shirts then, too.

    For better or worse, it does seem like we get back what we put out there. I hate to admit it, but it seems like we get treated like slobs if we dress like slobs. Sad, but true.

    • Yeah. You are what you wear, more’s the pity.

      I remember I had a long conversation with my students when I taught at one of the more flavorful high schools in DC (when I tell DC natives where I taught, most of them blanch). They got irritated when people wouldn’t take them seriously because of the colloquialisms they used, and one of the things we discussed was that their language and word choice has an effect on how people perceive them. Whether or not those people are wrong is unfortunately a moot point — to an extent we have to meet people’s expectations for professionalism before we can “be ourselves.” If we’re artful about it though, you can be professional and still show your own flair without disrespecting standards.

      It’s a fine line to walk, though.

  2. *chuckles* I suppose we males have it easier in the formality of clothing department, but I do see your point. Professionalism. Professionalism. Professionalism. Though for a writer, who is to say what clothing marks the professional? The vintage look you spoke of should work fine; the fishnets, I suppose, if you’re going for the teen crowd. Or goths…copious eyeshadow also necessary in such a case. Strapping on leather boots and corset probably wouldn’t hurt.

    Heh, but silliness aside – kick butt at your conference, Emmie. Most importantly, though: FEEL BETTER!

  3. Hmmm, this is a hard one, and I don’t think I qualify to an opinion seeing as my answer to the whole problem is this: if I ever have to go out in public as an author, I’m gonna hire my sister to pretend she is me.

    When I told her about it, she laughed, and said, “Sure!” So, that’s my plan.

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