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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 1:05 pm | Overcast 60º

 
 
 
 

Brian Burke (Column 186): One, Two, Button Your Shoe

Nothing to fear but fear itself is a diagnosis without a treatment. For her, it was a profoundly inadequate diagnosis because it didn’t consider the fear of being afraid, or the fear of that fear (which regresses to fear of fear of fear).

It’s not an infinite regression; rather, it’s a progression toward oblivion. The onset is insidious: when a body, a spirit, a self, when her self began to fall, she feared it would accelerate to a velocity from which escape would be impossible.

She can’t fix herself, but she has faith in the prophylactic effect of her lists. When necessary, she will spend a month defining and refining a long set of sequential acts to be performed during the course of a challenging day or week or month.

Once she’s locked into the sequence, she’s safe.

She knew it would be a brutal day. She’d never quit a job before, and, no matter what happened next, this was going to be a life-defining event. Unlike big decisions of her past, she wasn’t choosing to be anything; she was choosing not to be exploited.

She was satisfied with Today’s List. Her List for the Next Three Weeks was provisional, though. She was sure she’d go into a voluntary quasi-sequestration by staying with her sister, Claire, Claire’s husband, Jack, and their son, Mark.

Mark insisted on calling her “Chick” and calling himself “Mungo.”

Today’s list was good, but it should have started upon awakening instead of:

1. Open front door;

2. Decide whether or not to wear a coat;

3. Put on coat/or not;

4. Take cable car fare from purse;

5. Close and lock door;

6. Walk to cable car ...

She was standing in front of her closet — paralyzed. Why didn’t she put out her clothing the night before? She didn’t know what to wear. Would she spend the entire day standing here? If she could somehow dial 9-1-1, would an EMT arrive to help her dress?

If she were able to dress and go to lunch with Roy, would IT strike again? Would she sit across from him, with her suspicions about the firm confirmed, and then freeze?

Would she be physically unable to take her letter of resignation out of her purse and hand it to him? Instead of resigning, would she have an inane conversation with Roy and then return to the job she had decided to leave?

Would she weep? Not likely. What about puking? What if she sat across from Roy at Tadich’s and blasted him with projectile vomit composed of masticated sand dabs?

Better to puke than to weep. Yeah, don’t weep — puke.

The list would see her through; yet, she still had to wear clothes to the office. How hard could this be? The decisions were simple: Dress or suit? Black or navy blue?

She liked the feel, the fit and the look of every item in her closet, a big accomplishment for which the cost was more uniformity in appearance than most women would accept.

She had good clothes, and, no matter what she wore, the look was the same. She wanted it that way. She expected to be noticed for the quality of her work, not for the way she looked.

She could toss a coin: heads = suit. On the second toss: heads = black. No, that was too much commitment to a process. She couldn’t think her way into dressing, but she could still think.

On occasion, one of her clients had to make a binary decision without adequate information. The decision was arbitrary but too consequential to make with the toss of a coin.

She’d suggest that Option A be an equal number and Option B be an odd number. She then told the client to mentally round the square root of the sum of any two primes with three digits.

Option A suit: even; Option B dress: odd.

Use another prime. Option A black: even; Option B navy blue: odd.

[Author’s note: She did the real math in her head; here’s an example: √107 = 10.34 = 10 = suit.]

She did the calculation and got two odd numbers. Navy blue dress. High or low neck? Sleeves or sleeveless? Full or fitted skirt? Where’s the hem?

No decisions are necessary. They all had high necklines, they all had sleeves, and they all had pleated skirts hemmed at the knee. Lighter or heavier material? She went for medium, which meant a navy blue Merino wool dress.

She stopped growing at 5 feet, 10 inches. She had three pairs of black shoes and three pairs of navy blue shoes; she could stand at exactly 6 feet, slightly shorter or slightly taller. Her shoes were expensive; the investment was in comfort.

She had two navy blue handbags with design features so subtle that they were known only to those who owned them.

Her shopping was relentlessly practical — not fun. Her mother and her sister would wear clothes like hers if they had her job, but neither could resist the opportunity to say, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”

She’d taken her clothes for granted for years. Today she realized that, unless she continued to practice law in a big city, she had no need for it. Her “collection” was silly.

Silly or not, it’s what she’s got, and she’s still frozen in front of her mirror. Is this mental illness? Maybe. The Other Thing is surely mental illness.

The word illness recalled the last time she saw her own doctor. She looked competent and confident in a starched white lab coat fitted at the waist with a slight flare at the knee-length hem. Buttons were replaced with cloth frogs, and she wore red shoes with medium heels. She looked strong, and she looked feminine.

Strong and feminine: snap! She reached for the felt bag that contained her one pair of red shoes. They had 2-inch heels, so she would stand at 6 feet even.

She had a red purse to match and, wait ... this was a dress that could be worn with or without the blue or red belt that came with it. She had always worn it without a belt and, like all her professional clothing, it was subtly fitted to soften the lines of her figure.

Of course, she knew what was there, but she forgot about it during the week. When she buckled the red belt, she was surprised and pleased by what she saw in the mirror.

She took the California Street cable car to her office building. Tourists seemed to notice her; at least two or three snapped her picture.

The brakeman and the conductor, who have known her for years in her stealth mode, failed to recognize her at first. They both broke into wide smiles when they did. So, too, did the security guards at her building.

It took about three minutes for her to walk — the sway of the skirt was almost unnoticeable — from the building’s entrance to her office.

It was enough time for the news of her red shoes and red belt to sweep though the office; it was exactly what she had avoided for six years.

She was breathing too fast when she got to her office. She repeated the mantra: “Don’t weep; puke ...,” which stabilized her until she found a copy of Today’s List. There was a lot to do during her last few hours with the firm, and she had no need to leave the security of her office before lunch.

The next column: A crypto-quasi-misogynist?

— Brian Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he also is the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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