It was a presentation at a national conference, and everyone else on the panel would be wearing a suit. So I pulled out my one professional outfit – black pants and a blazer. And a long black coat. My black coat is a hand-me-up from Urban Sophisticate Sister, whose cast-off clothes are still far nicer than anything I own. As I got dressed, it felt funny to be putting on this outfit at home, instead of in a hotel room. This year the conference was being held in Snowstorm City, at a conference center within walking distance of my campus office.
Of course, once I was dressed, I had to leave the house. I have seven cats, and black pants have this special magnetism that attracts cat hairs, much the way my skin attracts poison ivy juice. I knew if I spent any time lounging around the house, taking the time perhaps to figure out what I was going to say for the presentation, or hanging out and eating breakfast, that I would I end up looking like a crazy cat lady.
So I went to campus to do a few hours of work before it was time to walk over to the conference. As I walked through the library to my office, I noticed students and colleagues giving me sympathetic looks. It was a little strange. Why was everyone feeling sorry for me? I looked down to see if there was anything particularly pathetic about my appearance. Was I covered in cat hairs? No. Was I trailing toilet paper? No. Had I made the mistake of getting chalk on my hands and then wiping them on myself so that I had handprints on my butt? No.
It's true that my students and colleagues are used to seeing me dressed in jeans, but that does not account for the way they greeted me with somber head tilts instead of the usual cheery hellos. Perhaps they thought it was sad to see me dressed like an academic instead of a tree-hugging, peace-loving, feminist hippie poet.
Then finally one colleague said something that made it all clear. "Going to a wake?"
Yeah. My looking-like-an-academic outfit is, perhaps not coincidentally, the same outfit I wear to funerals.