On Style

“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.
I’m half-crazy over the love of you.
It won’t be a stylish marriage. I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

“Harry, Harry, this is my answer true:
I’m not crazy over the love of you.
If it can’t be a stylish marriage, and we can’t afford a carriage,
Then I’ll be danged if I’ll be hanged on a bicycle built for two.”

This is the version of the popular song I learned as a child. The tune is catchy, and for a while I sang it every chance I got. Slowly, though, I started thinking that the eponymous Daisy Bell was unpleasantly superficial in spurning the love in favor of material goods. (Lately I have learned that the answer portion was not part of the original and that there are many variations of Daisy’s answer, some of which find her joyful accepting Harry’s ride.) In any case, as happens with fads, I stopped singing the song but it has never left my consciousness all together. This morning, I awoke thinking that maybe Daisy showed uncommon self-awareness in her answer, making a wise choice for herself and the young man.

Imagine a recent afternoon in New York’s Central Park. Suppose Harrison drops to one knee and says, “Marguerite, I love you. You dazzle me with your brilliant mind and well cut suits. Be mine forever! Come live with me in the country. Give up your oncology practice. We’ll be so happy on my organic farm, and you’ll look so sweet in a pair of bib overalls.”

Put’s a different twist on it, doesn’t it? Could two people with dreams of such different lifestyles ever be happy together? I think not.

Style is an enormously vibrant word. Our style expresses not only who we are but who we want to become, our deepest dreams. Literally, style is a form of emotional bravery, of wearing our hearts on our sleeves.

Style is one way to resolve the ontological paradoxical imperative simultaneously to be and to become. Substance and style are closely related in our minds. Think about it: no one wants a big red shiny apple that tastes of wax outside and is mealy inside, an apple that has traded degraded nutritional content for a toxic stew of herbicides and pesticides.  It’s true that shiny surfaces can be designed to deceive, and we’ve all made Snow White’s mistake of being drawn to the surface without checking under the hood. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that your beautiful bowl of signature minestrone soup, gleaming with fresh organic vegetables and your homemade pesto, garnished with a little Italian parsley and sprinkled with a few pine nuts, isn’t superior in every way to canned soup. Any canned soup, no matter how meticulously sourced or documented its nutrients. That’s because your soup is your own, sublime, never-to-be-repeated magic worked on local ingredients and served with love. If you serve that soup with imagination and flair – in  pretty china bowls with  silver spoons and cloth napkins, perhaps a candle on the table and a welcoming smile, you’ll have created a meal that will ignite cheers and nourish the dreams of others. You will have been true to yourself and shared yourself with others.

The truth is that we need the organic farm and the city sophistication to be married. We don’t want either/or dichotomies but a synthesis. Sometimes, whether we are talking about personal style or lifestyle shared with others, that happy marriage can be hard to achieve. Like ambitions, personal style should evolve but should never be sacrificed.  Style is the essence of substance, the outer expression of inner qualities and ideas. Like architecture, we develop our style and then it helps us to develop in the direction of our dreams.

I believe that there is a strong correlation between one’s style and one’s authenticity. So, my advice is not to shy away from your style. Embrace it, and follow where it leads…even if that means today you are following a different drummer, peddling down a quiet road on a bicycle built for one. That’s okay. The crowd will catch up. Meanwhile, enjoy the view.