Driving FINAL
Image by Lee Sandwith © 2011
Dress Memory23

The Driver’s Seat

I love the neither-here-nor-thereness of travel. Pack the car. Slam shut the trunk. Get on the road. Faced with foreign terrain you often have to invent new words to describe unfamiliar feelings and ideas, words to suit the unpacking you’re doing every day. Portmanteaux.

Spinifexcess: the state of native prickliness one feels when hit with an overweight baggage charge.

I was having a bumpy ride when I found this dress at a shop on Sydney Road years ago. I was overloaded with passion and grief, and the dress seemed so simple and smart, so stewardess-practical—exactly the sort of thing I’d never usually wear. So I bought it.

It’s decorated with a beautiful appliqué of olive and cream flowers, but is otherwise quite plain. However, the cool linen clings tightly around the hips like a seatbelt and makes you feel like you’re in a jeep, in the wild, on safari. A secret hunter.

Wow-ow: an awe and admiration so hefty it hurts, as for someone you love from afar and can’t have.

My early twenties. Speeding along, desperate to arrive at a place that felt right. I wore this dress to an interview for a job that might have given me a lift. I didn’t end up getting it, but just being in that office was exhilarating. When someone lets you in to a place that feels right, however fleetingly, of course you’re going to go home and dream every night about going back there.

Broochatter: the conversations you pin all your hopes on.

Many years later, when I was finally in a place I’d been trying so hard to get to, I threw this dress into a tub to soak and settled down to read Madame Bovary in the backyard. As the protagonist sank further into despair the dress remained crumpled in the tub, and when I remembered to pull it out a week later I was aghast. By then, Emma Bovary was dead and the dress was ruined: the buttons had rusted and the fabric splattered with permanent metallic stains.

Distraught, I banished the dress from my life. What a mess I’d made of everything. I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore, let alone wear it. I hid it at the top of a cupboard and tried to move forward. Hope drove me.

Emoticoncubine: a mistress who represents her lover’s current mood in a passively cute but meaningless way; an inadequate stand-in for a real feeling. :(

Earlier this year I pulled the dress out again. The stains that had been so devastating at the time turned out to be just tiny russet patches—barely noticeable at all. I can’t believe I ever thought they were such a big deal.

The Driver’s Seat: one comment

  1. Megan Says:

    Hi Lorelai! I’m afraid I haven’t read through the text that accompanies this delightful picture, although I will in a moment. I’m popping by because I sat next to you at Men of Letters today and I quite rudely forgot to talk to you on my way out. I hope you’ll forgive me. In the shuffle through the tables towards the door I realised Kate Miller-Heidke was behind me talking to her husband about their recording schedule and became so absorbed in the task of thinking of something to say to her. (I often have this problem at Women of Letters. The first time I attended, I spent twenty minutes afterwards agonising over whether to speak to Missy Higgins, then kicked myself all the way home for not talking to her, then sta down and wrote her a letter which I never sent.) The only thing that came to mind when I found myself within creepy-touching distance of Kate was “When I saw you were going to be on Q and A this week, I was worried it would be kind of embarrassing because it often is when musicians talk about politics, but you were fantastic!” which didn’t seem like a good idea. And by then I was swept up in the crowd and hadn’t had time to say hello to you again.

    So I’m doing it now, and I hope you see this. If not I can try getting you on Twitter, but I don’t particularly want to. It doesn’t let me be nearly as long-winded. I like to use a lot of words, more in writing than I do in speech, as you might have noticed from my short comments and the lengthy letter I penned during the course of the afternoon.

    You said I looked familiar, and it’s quite possible – I’ve been to a fair few Women of Letters events, among other things, and I’ve seen you around Melbourne a few times. In fact I remember you from a debate at the Emerging Writers Festival last year, though the main reason I was there was that my housemate and I had decided to spend the duration of the festival stalking Craig Schuftan. I’m a fan, of WoL and many of the people who have graced its stage, but more generally a fan of *things*, maybe even a fan as a way of life. I’m an audience. Not that I’m not creative in my own right. I write almost compulsively, and I make music, but I think one needs a particular kind of personality to want to make music or writing their career, to want an audience, and I’m just not that sort of person.

    Anyway, I hope you see this. It was utterly delightful to meet you, and I hope I’ll see you again at the next Women of Letters, and this time I’ll make sure not to get distracted by trying to think of witty things to say to musicians.

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