Slowly I seem to be rediscovering the life of the mind, moving from melancholia to mental activity and the intense curiosity that I remember from long ago. I’m not there yet; it could all evaporate (and sometimes does) back into the incessant gloaming that is depression. Yet in the times now when I’m confined by sadness and panic and the lack of self-worth to this small bedroom I currently inhabit, sometimes I’m able to forget my circumstances and allow my mind to focus on literature, ideas, music, hopes, dreams.
Logically enough, it’s easier to write, to think, and to work when you’re not lying in bed in such a state of sadness that it’s hard to even open your eyes. In these moments only sleep can ease the pain, but sleep either will not come or is so light and fractal that it’s filled with frantic fever dreams which you can only escape by forcing yourself awake. I must force myself awake many times over the course of some nights, to escape the gloaming and the grief that follows me even into dream-scape. In those times I awake in a cold sweat, escaping the dream grief only to confront the waking grief. And somehow I hold on until I finally find true sleep or the grief fades enough for me to read, think, create, and live. But the grief always returns.
The last couple of nights, though, I’ve felt well enough to be able to concentrate on some of my old loves: reading, technology, making lists of my goals and the small luxuries and necessities of life. I’ve created a spreadsheet to keep track of my wish lists, and a database to track my decimated library and the quotations that I’m once again trying to record. It’s good work in that it forces me to re-familiarize myself with software I once knew well, and re-acclimate myself to working for hours on end at a single task. And it encourages greater organization as well.
On my wish list I was sure to add that I long for a blue or white Oxford cloth Brooks Brothers button-down (traditional fit, with the red lettering in the back of the collar), just like the one Tammy and I bought when Adam was a baby and we spent an afternoon shopping in downtown Cincinnati. That was the first Brooks Brothers shirt I ever owned. I had wanted one ever since reading a column in Gentlemen’s Quarterly about “the girlfriend shirt” that your lady friend would sleep in and wear around the house, presumably unbuttoned a bit and without any other article of clothing other than optional panties. Tammy wasn’t my girlfriend by then, of course; she was my wife. And she never wore that shirt, but she knew how important it was to me and how proud I was to wear it during my early years as a political adviser in the Capitol (many, many times with tasteful repp ties and silk braces). I wore that shirt every week, always with heavy starch from the cleaners, and I wore it until the buttons finally crumbled from the constant heat of the cleaners, like a piece of hard candy which you enjoy and enjoy until you finally bite down and it crumbles between your teeth. I could have replaced the buttons easily enough, but it broke my heart and I let the shirt go. But it’s always been my favorite, and I’ve always missed it like the myth of the great lost love.
Brooks Brothers Traditional Button Downs in Blue and White
(from American-grown Supima cotton)
Now in recent years I’ve been wanting another Brooks Brothers shirt more and more. I want one for the man I was then, as young and ambitious and sharp and as confident as I would ever be. I want one for whatever sort of man I am today. I want one because they are timeless in a way that I am not, and timelessness is perhaps one of the rarest gifts of our world. Time hurries, time avenges, and time does not wait. Sometimes if forces us to hurry a bit too much ourselves, missing truths and confessions and times of regret and love. We have no choice but to resist and to stall, to forge new symbolism and meaning from the accoutrements of youth. For me, the Brooks Brothers oeuvre links a young man’s conception of taste and elegance to credibility, simplicity, and masculine authority. It links the first inklings of maturity to eventual manhood, and provides the basic for a sound man, one whom who apparently learns style and taste without even trying. And that, it should be clear, is the basis for a lifetime of standout sartorial style.