Thursday, 28 June 2007


Have you ever noticed that some people just seem to be born with grace and style? Some people can wear anything and look elegant and refined. Whatever they say sounds astute and perceptive; whatever they do looks competent and natural.

Then you have people like me. I inherited this unfortunate quality from my father. My uncle once commented that my father could wear the most expensive suit and you'd think it had come off the rack at K-Mart. Cruelly, I laughed at the time -- my uncle was right! -- but somewhere deep inside me a tiny voice whispered that I was just the same. And really, I am. Good clothes are wasted on me; in no time at all I've got ketchup on the collar and coffee spilled down the front. Buttons pop off my shirts and get lost, my cuffs become stained and frayed, and my shoes acquire scuff marks no matter how careful I am. But mainly, I just don't wear fine clothes with the natural confidence of the born-graceful. Which is okay, really, as I vastly prefer to buy my clothes at The Salvation Army Thrift Shop, my favorite boutique. But that doesn't mean I don't envy those graceful people just the same. I'd like to walk down the street in my secondhand clothes and enjoy the awe and admiration that the born-graceful inspire whatever they wear, wherever they go.

Natural grace has everything to do with personality and manner, and next to nothing to do with looks. It is inspired by a certain confidence which might be possible to acquire, but I suspect is largely innate. I like to imagine that it is possible to gain this over the years, because I've been trying to achieve it for a couple of decades and I want to think that I am getting somewhere.

The only reason I even decided to try is largely to do with my first yoga teacher, Kakizawa-san, who once commented that she had felt ungainly as a child. Kakizawa-san was in her early fifties, slender and tall. She wore her hair long and it never got messy, and throughout every yoga class, she maintained a calm, gracious manner that was seemingly effortless.

This can't be easy to do in a yoga class, where you are constantly changing position and adopting awkward or embarrassing postures. But Kakizawa-san managed it, all the same. She just had a knack. She herself was convinced that yoga had given her more grace and confidence. This gave me hope.

One day, in class, she was showing us a shoulder stand. "Now please don't be embarrassed if you pass wind when you try this," she said gravely. The entire class -- mainly women in the forties and fifties -- tittered. Kakizawa-san smiled, but assured us that it was perfectly natural to fart, absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. As it turned out, all of us managed our shoulder stands without even a hint of a fart. But it would have been okay if any of us hadn't: Kakizawa-san had said so.

During cold season, one of my fellow students brought up the subject of jalneti, or saline nasal irrigation. This is the yoga practice of passing warm salt water through the nostrils, which is said to have enormous benefits in cleaning the throat and sinuses. Kakizawa-san assured us that she did this and found it immensely helpful. Everyone expressed interest in precisely how it was done, and she offered to give us a demonstration.

Leading us all into the ladies' room, Kakizawa-san produced a small clay pot filled with warm salt water. She tied her long hair back and gracefully leaned over the sink, collapsing one nostril with a finger and holding the pot up to her nose. "Now you gently breathe in the water" she intoned, doing this, "and release it through your mouth." Again, she demonstrated, allowing the water to flow out of her mouth. It looked so easy the way she did it and -- I swear to God! -- so stylish. I couldn't wait to try it myself.

Now, I won't give you the gory details. Just go try it yourself. You don't need a clay pot, just some boiled water cooled to body temperature with a pinch of salt added. Stand in front of a mirror and see how cool you look doing this. See if you can make it look graceful and stylish. If you can, good for you: you are one of the born-gracefuls of this world and you ought to be proud.

Me, I do it without the mirror.


Brian said...

In a suit I look like a bag of onions tied in the middle. I don't exactly dribble -- though I manage to splash such delights as gravy all over my clothes . Do I care ? No way !

My wife does of course -- but then, she's neat.

Nose irrigation -- quick and easy way -- a small syringe , purchased for a minor cost from a chemist -- fill up and squirt away .

So , witzl , if your clothes look scruffy , do you subscribe to the theory that you should wear good underwear always -- in case you have an accident and are taken to hospital?

Now that would be something -- parade down your freezing streets over there in only your underwear -- that would cause people to note your elegance !

patterjack ,(who'd try to be there with a camera ) .

Kim Ayres said...

You act it. Imagine that you owned the world, and how you would stand and move if you had supreme confidence in yourself, and then move accordingly. The more you practice the better you get.

"Fake it 'til you make it" as they say.

Eryl Shields said...

I have noticed those inner elegance people they are very rare and stand out like beacons of serenity. My mother-in-law has an italian friend who is like that she buys all her clothes from Tesco and Marks and Spencer and looks like she's wearing couture.

I've often thought of trying that nose thing but am too squeamish.

Mary Witzl said...

Brian -- I'll bet your wife cares because she does the laundry! But I might be wrong.

As for underwear, I get my kids' rejects, or the most servicable thing that Tesco offers. And if I were to parade about in it, a lot more than my elegance would be noted, I assure you. And sadly, photographing it would be a waste of good film, but I still appreciate the thought.

Kim -- Well, I know which camp you fall into, you lucky dog!

This is what I am aiming for, of course, and why I still continue to do yoga and watch my posture. But oh, to have that grace naturally! By the time I make it, I'll be so old it'll be a pyrrhic victory.

Eryl -- I know several people like this and envy them from the bottom of my heart.

As for the nasal irrigation, because of my respiratory troubles I do it quite often. I'd offer to show you how to do it, but then you have said you are squeamish...

Kim Ayres said...

Not naturally, and I certainly couldn't pull it off with clothes. However, I did learn as a businessman how to hold myself and, if necessary, dominate the space, or at least not be dominated by others. It's a mindset. Get the right frame of mind and your body language follows suit. It's back to narrative theory again - if you create a strong enough story, eveyone else believes it.

Kim Ayres said...

certainly couldn't pull it off with clothes - I just read that back and I should have proof read before publishing the comment. What I meant was I've never looked fashionable. In fact I was talking to Maggie the other day about the fact that I wear more or less the same kind of clothes I did 20 years ago - jeans, t-shirt, denim or cotton shirt.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- When I taught I had to have a certain presence in front of my classes -- as did my husband. We've often talked about this and how we had to create a somewhat false persona just to help us get through every class. But it was certainly never effortless.

I've never had a lick of style or fashion sense, either. There was a time when I minded terribly, but now it doesn't really bother me unless I have to go out. And then I get my daughters or friends to help me.

eg(scotland) said...

I was certainly born without style or grace - and as much as I've tried, I've just never found it. I also don't do girlie - anytime I try to wear something that looks the least bit feminine I just feel totally out of sorts and think I look strange. Now I just think to myself - I've got my own style - I comfortable in it - so live with it.


Katie Alender said...

Me, too, Mary -- I see pictures of myself and I always seem to be the dumpy one. I think I'm starting to realize that I really need to wear clothes I like and feel like myself in -- not because I think it's what everyone else is going to be wearing.

Carolie said...

I'm the style-free one, who ALWAYS sports a food stain (my family jokes that they can always tell if I've had lunch on any random day by looking at the state of my blouse!) Even harder, my baby brother has style in spades. He always looks as if he stepped from a magazine, even in ratty shorts with motor oil on them.

Though I won't ever pull of real style, nor will anyone ever mistakenly assume I'm Parisian, I have found that when I am happy and confident, with my head held high, people don't remember my odd clothing or stains, they remember a smart, interesting, fun woman. So I keep shooting for that!

Still haven't had the confidence to be able to do a yoga class, farting or not, as I'm quite overweight...but hopefully someday!

Mary Witzl said...

EG -- I like like an idiot in girlie things, too, and so do my kids. My poor stepmother did not get this and kept sending me lovely baby clothes she'd made that were all pink and lacey. I dutifully dressed the kids in these items and photographed them for her, but every time I look at the pictures I laugh my head off -- the looks on their faces!

Good for you having your own style. I tell myself that I do too...

Katie -- I came to this decision in my thirties, and what a huge relief it was! It took me ages to realize that I could not wear those great tight skirts that movie stars look so good in -- the ones with the slit up one side so that you aren't too hobbled when you walk. I still think they look fantastic, but they just aren't for me. Sigh...

Carolie -- You are obviously one of the born-gracefuls too, and don't you try to pretend otherwise! I think what you've said about holding your head high is astute: posture makes a huge difference in how you look and I've inherited my father's bad posture, which really hurts me in the grace department. So I will try to shoot for 'smart, interesting and fun' myself -- and hold my head high.

Carole said...

I must run in the wrong circles because I have never met a soul who could snort something up their nose, spit it out their mouth and look graceful. Do they realize where that salt water has been? Nope, not graceful. Never!!!!! But then she calls farting, passing wind, so maybe...she can be graceful. I do not believe these people exist in the states. So I feel comfortable enough, although my posture stinks and I should suck in my gut more.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- You had to see this to believe it, but I guarantee you, the way she did it looked graceful -- a bit like one of those statues with water spilling out of its mouth. Everyone else I have talked to about jalneti confesses to doing it just the way I do it -- with much snorting, gulping and slime -- but Kakizawa-san did it with grace and style. And honestly, she even talked about farting without making it sound gross. The word 'fart' is 'onara' in Japanese, and in my opinion sounds rather refined, (though talking about it in Japanese always makes people smirk and laugh). But the way she talked about it, it sounded natural and almost like something a person could be proud of.

Merry Jelinek said...

Ironically enough, my daughter's name is Grace. She is not one of the born gracefuls, except for the name. She's clumsy, you can count on her to come downstairs in beat up tee shirts with her hair in her eyes, even with a drawer full of pretty barrets and a closet full of clothes with the tags still attached... In fact, she tries very hard to get away with not brushing her hair by stuffing it under a baseball cap (I've learned to check before leaving the house)

She's fun and goofy - by second grade she was doing full fledged comedy routines in class (which her teacher told me she had a hard time punishing as she was trying not to laugh.) Those are all characteristics that, I think, will make her life more enjoyable than looking like you belong in designer clothes... well, once she learns better than to be so, umn, spirited in class...

I named her after my favorite Aunt. Auntie Grace never wore designer clothes. She was the best cook imaginable, she put her husband and family first in her heart, and was the living proof of the phrase, 'salt of the earth'... She was never happier than when she heard someone she knew had a good run of luck or was doing well, and never failed to feel true grief for another's pain... she may never have worn this type of born-graceful appearance, but she was born with grace of character - if my daughter inherits that, I'll be more than pleased.

Mary Witzl said...

Hello Merry, and thank you for commenting on my blog.

Your daughter sounds like a lot of fun, and not very different from my youngest. Though my daughter generally brushes her hair, she is inclined to forget to brush her teeth -- much worse, in my opinion. We are lucky to have daughters who are characters, though; many girls nowadays are completely obsessed with their appearances even at a very young age and try to hide their goofiness instead of celebrating it, as they should.

I know a woman like your Auntie Grace; she is my best friend's mother and so incredibly, naturally good that most people cannot quite believe it. And you are right: grace of character beats physical grace anytime.

Carole said...

Onara has become my favorite word. Absolutely wonderful. You are right that it sound perfectly elegant.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- I'm thrilled you like it! It is a very useful word in our family's vocabulary, nice and discreet. We just have to be careful not to use it too freely when there are people who might be Japanese about.