"I never imagined a red bra would show up on the cover of my novel, Self Storage. I had pictured a stylized sign from a self storage facility, perhaps a cardboard box. But when the art department at Random House sent along an image of a red bra nestled inside a mason jar, I knew it was perfect—so unexpected and compelling. It spoke so much to me of a self stored, a self bottled up, passion locked away.
I taught at a writer's conference in Santa Cruz a couple of years ago. One of my fellow teachers was a Yoruba priestess. She said that she let the spirit of Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of love, healing and art, guide her as she taught. Her workshop was amazing. She would walk up to a woman in the room and tell her what she needed to grow as a writer. Sometimes the guidance was practical-- create a separate writing space, write an hour every night, etc. Sometimes it was more emotional—you need to face your fears in your work, you need to deal with your mother issues, etc. Then, she walked up to one woman, a woman wearing a crisp buttoned blouse, her hair perfectly combed, every bit of her presence neat and controlled, and she said, “Honey, you need a red dress.” The woman started to cry. She said that she had been so focused on her career as an editor, she had lost sight of her wild side, her passionate side. She said that she would buy a red dress and go dancing as soon as the conference was over.
There is something so powerful--archetypal, really--about a red dress. A red bra. Red shoes. I once bought a pair of red Mary Janes; I just liked them because they were cute, but a friend admiring them said “Red shoes are power shoes. Those are your power shoes.” I liked the idea of that; I wasn't feeling particularly powerful at the time, and the thought gave me a boost. The shoes themselves fell apart after a while, but I find I keep replacing them with other red shoes, looking for that same surge. I practically live in my red Danskos now. Their redness has become muddled over time, but they still have a feisty glow to them. And I made sure to shop for a red dress before my first Self Storage reading.
Two red dresses figure into the novel. My main character Flan's mother is buried in one when she dies; Flan, seven at the time, is enlisted to choose the burial clothes. The red dress that she selects, it turns out, actually belonged to Flan's mom's friend. At the funeral, the friend is shocked to see her own dress in the coffin, but she laughs and says “Well, I did say she could borrow it for as long as she wanted.” I actually cribbed this scene from a friend's mother's funeral, and hadn't thought much about the significance of the red dress as I was writing, but now I love the idea of a red dress being shared among friends, women giving each other that sense of power. Later in the novel, Flan, who wears overalls just about every day, finds a red dress for herself, and it opens up a whole new world of possibility, both inside and outside herself.
Flan's neighbor from Afghanistan, Sodaba, wears a full burqa, and throughout the book, Flan is deeply curious about what is hidden under the dark folds of cloth. She never does discover what Sodaba looks like, what she wears beneath the veil, but I like to think she's hiding a red bra inside, that she's keeping her own passion alive there, burning like a heart." -- Gayle Brandeis, author of Self Storage (Ballantine, 2007)
IMAGE GALLERY: RED IS THE NEW RED.