2 March 1995

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

I had a bad dream last night. All I remember is that I slept with some guy and lost one of my saddle shoes and both of my blue high heels with the piratical buckles. This morning I saw one of the pirate shoes and felt wonderfully relieved, which made sense as soon as I remembered the dream. I resisted the urge to dig around in my closet to make sure they were both there.

Teresa just called, and I told her the dream, “…and when I saw my shoes, I was so excited, even more excited than usual, and then I remembered the dream…” So you see how the account changes from one moment to another.

I am running out of money, Max. 

I’m also getting an almost irresistible urge to cut my own hair, always a sign of deep distress in Judy Bloom novels. Oh, Max, can you just see me, crouched in front of the sink, snipping away at my hair, eating potato chips with a wild look in my eye? It’s the money that bugs me. When Teresa was here, I said, “I’m afraid that I’ll be a burden!” And she said, with a kiss, “Oh, my Little Burden!” 

I hope Cate School gives me a job after grad school. I’ve been thinking about what to say and wear. Never mind! I’ve also been thinking about getting published, rich and just the right amount of famous.  Delusions!

And I’ve decided that it’s high time I started sending my Thoughts on lipstick, shoes and outfits to Vogue and similar. I even wrote an lipstick article long-hand, and never typed it. So, I shall stave off despair by typing that article. 


Last night my girlfriend and I were walking down a deserted street, and we started talking about what we would do if someone attacked us. “Would you defend me?” I said.

“Of course, Princess.”

“At the point of your sword?” 

“Sure, honey,” and she patted her front pocket where she keeps her folding knife. It’s a serrated knife with a rounded tip, but it all seemed to translate–she would saw the bad guys up in little bits!

“So would I,” I said, carried away with the gallantry of the moment. “I’d defend you at the point of…of…”

“Your lipstick!” said Teresa. 

And I suddenly had a vivid picture of myself in a fencer’s stance, lipstick unsheathed and fully extended, gleaming in the moonlight and pointed at the quivering throat of My Enemy. I actually think it would be an effective deterrent. Of course you have to consider the wild look in my eye.

It’s hard for me to tell how my girlfriend feels about my lipstick obsession. When I’ve just put on my shiny, deep red Prescriptives Intriguing, she sighs and kisses my cheek instead of my mouth. And when I leave a lipstick kiss on her wide, high cheekbone, she rubs it in patiently and turns the other cheek–so I can make her symmetrical. Once I had no money and wanted Borghese’s Sheer Porto so badly it brought tears to my eyes, and she tried to buy it for me. I had been trying on lipstick after lipstick at the Borghese counter–Tostino, Vino, Milano–and she kept saying, “That one’s nice.” But when I tried Sheer Porto she said, “Oh, that’s a good one.” I considered stealing the tester–the new line of Superiore lipsticks cost twenty dollars each, but I left without stealing or buying it, pretending to Teresa that I still hadn’t made up my mind. She wasn’t fooled. She knew I was, technically speaking, broke.

“Just let me buy it for you,” she said. “It’ll make you so happy.” And I thought, “Yeah, it will,” and I would have let her except that my sister and I had laid a complicated plan to make our purchases at the same time in order to spend enough to qualify for the Gift With Purchase.

But what struck me at the time was the truth of what she said–it would make me so happy. I’m not saying it would change my life, but the pleasure it would give would be very real. And in fact since that day I have purchased Sheer Porto, and I can report that, three weeks into my ownership, I still go into a small, private glow when I put it on. It’s a great fucking lipstick. 

I just finished reading Sister Carrie, the worst book in the world, in which feminine vanity is both scorned and adored: all our heroine wants is new clothes. This is her life, her soul, her ambition, and isn’t it sweet and silly? Well, I hope my lipstick-drive is not like that. I hope I value love, friendship, honesty (in books and in life), kindness, wit, and beauty–and this last item happens to include lipstick. And by the way, I would defend my girlfriend at the point of my sword or my lipstick or anything I could lay my hands on. I would smash my Sheer Porto into the face of anyone who threatened her, even if the color had been discontinued.  Love is more important than lipstick, of course it is! But lipstick is still pretty important. That’s all I’m saying.

I don’t know why I’m getting so defensive about this. But I think of that passage in The Life of Johnson, the best book in the world, where Johnson argues against Hume’s notion that all pleasures are equal, including the pleasures of personal vanity.

I mentioned Hume’s notion, that all who are happy are equally happy; a little Miss with a new gown [lipstick], a General at the head of a victorious army, and an orator, after having made an eloquent speech in a great assembly. Johnson: “Sir, that all who are happy are equally happy, is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not the capacity for equal happiness with a philosopher.” (The Life of Johnson, Modern Library, 307, year 1766.)

The Little Miss/Philosopher divide doesn’t apply very well to American life where some of our philosophers wear lipstick and may even occasionally sport a new gown. But surely he’s right that the more conscious you are, the more happy you can be. And yet I don’t think that Hume and Johnson between them really put the question right. Jane Austen says it better than anyone, because her vessel of true happiness not an orator or a general or a philosopher or a little Miss, but a young woman in love. 

Very, very happy were both Elizabeth and Anne Elliot as they walked in. Elizabeth, arm in arm with Miss Carteret, and looking on the broad back of the dowager Viscountess Dalrymple before her, had nothing to wish for which did not seem within her reach; and Anne–but it would be an insult to the nature of Anne’s felicity, to draw any comparison between it and her sister’s; the origin of one all selfish vanity, of the other all generous attachment.

Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room. Her happiness was from within. Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed,–but she knew nothing about it. (Persuasion, Oxford Paperbacks, 175.)

Oh, dear. I half expect the vain and small-minded Elizabeth to whip a tube of Sheer Porto from her reticule. And yet why are small and great pleasures so often portrayed–even by the very best authors–as not going together? If Anne had been conscious and pleased that her eyes were bright and her cheeks glowing, would that have made her happiness less perfect? And isn’t it possible to love your lipstick and your girlfriend?

When I’m in love, I’m even more pleased than usual with good lipsticks and good shoes and good jackets–because I want to look pretty. Of course I do. I want to be my smartest, funniest, kindest, best self–and I want to be pretty.

And so I defend my lipsticks–at the point of my sword.


I’m officially depressed. Here’s what I accomplished today. Got up around ten, wrote in diary until 2:30 with breaks for reading Life of Johnson and Persuasion. Also had a hot dog in there somewhere. And tried on clothes. Never mind! I did a few school chores in the late afternoon, then spent the evening looking at the backs of all my books, read a little, tried to jerk off, couldn’t get interested in that either, so finally I just lay in bed doing nothing. It was a strange feeling, not miserable exactly, just not much of anything. And then I did get a little miserable thinking about how I’ll never have a job or finish my novel or ever work on it again (because I haven’t worked on it in a few days) and how I know what to do with my diary, but I’m too lazy to do it.

I tried to cheer myself up by thinking about my lipstick article. “You wrote a whole article! And you’re going to submit it! And then you will have a career!” But I have this creeping fear that I’ll never get two envelopes, two stamps and a printed copy of the article all in the same place at the same time and into the mail.

Maybe I should set some goals. Short-term goal (as in tomorrow morning): write a scene for your fucking novel or you will be whipped. Medium-term goal (as in tomorrow night): read those fucking papers for the class you’re TAing to get some money coming in. Long-term goal: be very rich and very happy. Actually, my long-term goal is to move in with Teresa and be a good girlfriend. My sub-goal is to get a job, any job.

It’s midnight now, so maybe it’s time to lie in bed again. But what if I have another awful dream about losing my shoes?