Not Too Shabby

HappinessProjectCoverOne of the lessons that resonated with me most in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project was her rule to “Be Gretchen.” Rubin found that she wasted a lot of energy wishing she was the sort of person who appreciated jazz, who took advantage of more of the cultural opportunities in her city, who did all sorts of things that weren’t really her style, but that she thought should be. She realized you can’t play to your strengths if you aren’t honest about who you really are. Like Anne Rice’s vampires who wake up each evening with the same haircut they had when they died, whatever you think you’ve fixed about yourself just reverts to old habits with the sunrise.

When I’m honest, I know that I don’t really have any fashion sense. When I’m honest, I own up to a past coworker’s accusation that I am a “bulldog” because I latch on to an idea or a project and don’t let go until it’s done (for better or worse). These two seemingly unrelated traits often collide in my life.

Fall always puts me into a back-to-school mood. After months of trying to staying cool without uncovering too much doughy flesh, I’m ready for the dark colors and full coverage of proper clothes. I get tired of being Gemma, and every year I start to think that with some new “school clothes” I might pull off the finished and put-together persona of someone much more stylish than I am.

I look at my split ends and start to get aspirational.

“Hmm, I haven’t had a haircut in over six months. Maybe I should start at the top with a new do, buy a hairdryer and styling products, and figure out how to use them.”

Then the real Gemma says, “That would pay for a bed at KEX hostel in Reykjavík for almost a week.”

View from KEX Hostel

View from KEX Hostel

I look at my ragged nails and hairy legs and reach for the phone to book a mani and a wax, but just as I’m about to dial I think, “That would cost as much as a pass to the Eistnaflug festival.”

“Good god, the price of that dress could get me a rental car for three days.”

“New boots, or an off-season ticket to Europe? That’s a no-brainer.”

They're fine as long as it doesn't rain.

They’re fine as long as it doesn’t rain.

As much as I wish Gemma to be polished and chic, Gemma is going to Iceland in 2014.

I know from past experience that when I get off the airport bus in downtown Reykjavík/Singapore/London/Tokyo/Amsterdam I will cringe at my reflection in storefront windows. I will be passed by slender, fashionable locals in these cosmopolitan cities and feel – not quite ashamed, but abashed at least – at the way I don’t quite measure up. I’m not even crusty enough to add color like the dreadlocked anarchopunks who litter the downtowns of glamorous cities all over the world. I’m just scruffy.

But better a scruffy looking nerf herder in Reykjavík than a chic homebody.

The old bag can still hold kronur.

The old bag can still hold kronur.

So to any Icelanders who happen to see a shabby American walking Laugavegur next summer in clothes might have fit properly long ago in a galaxy far away, to any Icelandic friends who may wonder if these are in fact the same jeans I ripped at the Reykjavík! show during Airwaves 12:

I apologize in advance for my appearance. Please know that my failure to meet local standards is not a sign of disrespect. It is, quite truthfully, just who I am. Further, it’s what got me back to your wonderful country.

(Did I mention that I passed on the Black Friday sales and bought whiskey distilled in my hometown? It’s quite good and much cheaper to buy back home than in Iceland, so I have enough to share.)


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