Repeating myself

I'm recounting an incident to an old friend, Susan, who visited. "You already told me that", she observes tartly.

I flush with embarrassment for a few seconds and then think "Oh god, I'm turning into my mother." Whom Susan knew. And what's worse, she agreed.

Repetition and its cousin, routine, are valuable to me now. I savour many of the same meals, clothes, scenery and music—as Milan Kundera wrote, "Happiness is the longing for repetition". The pipeline of novelty keeps flowing; friends suggest new music, art and books, but sampling what's new competes with the comfort of proven pleasures. Keeping up becomes a lot.

Just after my gaffe, Ronni Bennett, of the insightful blog Time Goes By, wrote an empathic post, Elders Repeating Ourselves, on the subject.

I've decided, about clothes, that the notion of a rut is irrelevant. By the time you're past 45 or so, there are but two categories: what works and everything else.

As for trends like wedge sneakers or asymmetrical hems (seen everywhere in Montréal last summer, so absolutely not going to be seen next summer), I enjoy them shown off on the young, who don't mind the disposability.

I remember a woman in her seventies whom I saw in Toronto the winter before I moved; she was standing on the street chatting with someone. She wore a charcoal-grey wool reefer with a tart apricot wool scarf at her throat. The colours were spectacular together, arresting yet discreet at the same time. Set off by her white bob, the whole effect was of calm, timeless grace. 

MaxMara "Rubino" coat
Chann Lu scarf

Though it's pure projection on my part, I doubt she was trying that silhouette for the first time. 

Ditto my admiration of Renata Molho. (The cigarette: I know; Not that.) Just beautifully tuned to colour and proportion.

 Photos: The Sartorialist

Different seasons, same glasses, repeated because they are right for her

But I'd hoped to escape repeating stories. 

Maybe, though, repetition is the yellow highlighter of life, showing us what's valued, worth keeping and returning to, as long as we can.

For that reason, I head into 2014 with familiar friends: Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt, sheepskin slippers, yet another year recorded in an ancient navy calfskin Filofax, even though there are all sorts of apps I could use.

I'm wondering what you keep repeating, because of the enduring enjoyment or other rewards.


Anonymous said…
Thank you for this post. I think the search for novelty is never ending and perpetuated by marketers. As I glanced into the mirror and viewed myself in another black turtleneck this morning I thought I may as well be wearing a uniform and felt a bit bad about it.
une femme said…
Renata has fabulous style, doesn't she? I feel like only in the past couple of years have I sussed out my "uniform" so am glad to find that repeating formula that works for me. But I also do need some novelty from time to time, and more often am turning to accessories for that.
Anonymous said…
I think repetition is caused by lack of stimulation c'est tout. Up until you retire your days are really too full, then all of a sudden a light switch turns off and most days are very routine.

Renata is interesting because it shows how few older women have any interest in fashion, that's why she stands out. I live in an area full of seniors and they really just do seem to develop an interest in wearing toddler like palettes and fabrics. I don't know if it's a generational thing boomer vs pre-boomer or whether I will develop that myself in just a few more years.
My repetition comes in the way of color. Blue has always been my favorite color. And most blues look spectacular on me; they can bring out the color of my eyes, makes my skin look better, and it always makes me feel good. So, in spite of the fact that I've been wearing that color consciously for over 40 years, my closet is 75% blue. (Plus you can add some other fab colors to your navy blue, can't you!)
LauraH said…
Repeating stories can be a result of a busy life with lots of friends, you don't always remember what you've told who. Three years retired, I find myself with time to explore many things that just weren't possible while I was working and a lot of what absorbed my time and energy on the job wasn't exactly memorable or worthwhile. So I don't feel like a light switch has gone off, rather the reverse in many ways.

I tend to repeat colours, I want to wear what I love and if I have 'too much' that's okay. Repeating shapes makes so much sense, what works on the body doesn't change. I like to use those fold up shopping bags if I want to play with a novelty/trendy colour, Baggu makes a good line.
Duchesse said…
Anon@8:30: Many artists and designers work in a uniform such as yours, or a simple tee and pants. They minimize visual distraction to clear their minds to create. I hope you reconsider feeling even a bit bad about it.

une femme: I do that too, and find even my accessories have a consistent tone.

Anon@8:52; re "Renata is interesting because it shows how few older women have any interest in fashion, that's why she stands out." My experience is totally different; where I live,I see many well-dressed elders daily.

An elder woman may have interest but not the income. The poverty rate for elderly women living alone (in the US) has never been higher: now 18.4%.

Sandy: The world of blues! How lucky you are to be able to wear a range, and from warm hues to cools, you can have quite a range of intensity and mood.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: What a great idea; here is the link:
materfamilias said…
Gertrude Stein pointed out that there is no repetition, but only insistence. Perhaps your stories are worth the re-telling. . . ;-)

For years, I've tended to begin stories, quite often, by asking if I've already told them. Still, my son pointed out the other day that he'd "heard this one already." Like you, I felt a momentary sting of humiliation.

Sometimes, if I want to signal that I've heard someone's story before, I'll say, "Oh, is this the story about. . . I love the part where. . . Tell me again. . . " After all, so much of life is simply a variation on a theme, no?
frugalscholar said…
Thanks for the link. My husband is always chiding me for this. I've been doing it forever, so It's not just aging in my case.

Interestingly, my husband has always had a terrible memory and he has spent the last 30 years reading and re-reading Proust, which is all about the recovery of memory.

LPC said…
Stories, to be sure. I've taken to prefacing stories with, "I've probably told you this before:)." Otherwise, flat shoes....
I do that too and so now I say stop me if I've told you this before....Mother on the other hand is nudging 90 and repeats herself frequently. I like how she embellishes and changes the story just a bit with the re telling.
Anonymous said…
Wait, am I considered an "elder"? I have these repeat moments as well and I am 48! Then again, my mother has ALWAYS repeated herself, regardless of her age, so maybe with me it is genetic :) Also, I find myself repeating anecdotes with people because I can't remember who I've already said it to and who I haven't said it to, much like LauraH says in the above comment.

As far as repeats in fashion, I like to think of it as simply knowing your own style. Go to what you know will work on you and disregard the rest.

When it comes to thinking though, it is an entirely different story. I try to challenge myself every time I find myself making a judgement or closing myself off to new ideas.
Susan said…
I think the toddler like colors are worn by women who don't have the funds to access better colors/clothing. A trip into the bowels of many department stores can be harrowing. I took such a trip today.

We like to go again and again to our favorite restaurants. At one particular restaurant, we like to sit at the bar, order a margarita and our favorite dish. Doing this always makes me happy! Sometimes it is hard to branch out and try a new place when we KNOW we will enjoy the regular and familiar place,
Anonymous said…
Reading Penelope Lively's novel How It All Began recently, I was struck by this passage:

"...that vast accretion of data on which you depend--without it you would not be yourself. Impossible to share, and no one else could view it anyway. The past is our ultimate privacy; we pile it up, year by year, decade by decade, it stows itself away, with its perverse random recall system."

The recall system IS perverse, and we all tell things we've told before, trying to share our stories, ourselves. I enjoy privately 're-reading' my own back pages, but when I want to share a story, I've learned to preface it with, "Did I ever tell you about..." Often friends are kind--or forgetful--enough to say, "No. Tell me." On the other hand, my sister gave my daughter a t-shirt for Christmas that says, "Great story, Mom. Don't tell it again."

About fashion after a certain age, I'm with you: what works--shapes and especially colors--is all that matters.

Viktoria Berg said…
We repeat stories all the time in my family. It´s the glue that binds us, our personal mythology, if you like. It reminds us of what matters and why we are important to each other.

We go on repeated trips to England every year. We like that we understand the language, everything is available to us, like theatre and literature, but every year we explore a new area and learn something new. It´s a balance; we repeat and add new layers. Kind of like the best stories.
Northmoon said…
My big fear about repetition is repeating questions/stories at work - deadly for looking like I've got it under control. Perhaps a sign I should seriously consider retiring!

As for the wardrobe you are correct, there are things that work for me (and that I will wear) and clothes that won't. Even though I still buy an outlier item occasionally, chances are it will hang in my closet unworn.
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Duchesse said…
materfamilias: Isn't it funny that when our children are young they want the same stories told (or read) over and over- and when they grow up, the opposite happens?

frugal: There is a deliberate re-reading to savour and ponder, and then there is re-reading and discovering, "Oh, wait, no wonder this sounds familiar". I am guilty of the latter.

Anon@12:58: Very useful distinction about staying open to ideas. Thanks!

Susan: Oh, I am laughing! Today at a favourite lunch spot, I deviated from my usual and was deeply unhappy.

C.: That's an evocative passage. Is it "data", though? So much of my memory is kinesthetic, and formed of impressions, blending and layering. Data are information; my memory holds data but also inchoate impressions, emotions, mysteries. There is, however, the "random recall system" of which she writes.

Viktoria Berg: Yes, storytelling is the route of transmission of ancestral and cultural history; what Bruce Chatwin wrote about so movingly in "The Songlines".

Northmoon: I notice the younger generation (yikes, generations) in the workplace do not repeat their stories- but they do have favourite catchphrases.

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