Of Reader Mail Concerning Mourning, the Military, and Teachers

Reader mail, Snarklings! Yes, it’s time for another lesson full of questions taken from the Gothic Charm School mailbox. The Lady of the Manners wishes she was able to reply to each and every letter you delightful Snarklings send, but pesky realities such as sleeping and going to work seem to take up more time then they should. But, dear Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to have more lessons that will feature reader mail, with only occasional breaks for book reviews and topics the Lady of the Manners wants to rant hold forth about.

The first reader letter is from a young man calling himself Lost Recruit:

I have a slight dilemma. You see, I have fallen under the…title, for lack of another way too put it, of Goth. But my future career could strip me of the ‘title’ I’ve actually come to accept. You see I’ve enlisted into our United States Marine Corps just this July. I am worried about losing the spirit that has earned me such a unique view from my peers. Any advice Ma’am? I would’ve looked through the archives but couldn’t find anything that looked like it would work.
Thank you much.

Firstly, the Lady of the Manners would like to congratulate you on your enlistment, and hopes that your military career is both fulfilling and safe. As to being worried about having to forsake your gothy nature upon joining the military: at first glance, a life of military service does seem incompatible with such a thing. But the Lady of the Manners wants to reassure you that your joining the military DOES NOT mean you will have to turn your back on the Goth subculture which you call your home. The Lady of the Manners knows many Goths who have been in the military, and none of them lost their dark spirit and unique views. However, be aware that your different outlook on things will most likely earn you attention and comments from your fellow service people. Be prepared for sarcastic questions and sometimes even outright hostility, and try not to respond in kind. Be polite and matter-of-fact about who you are, and please don’t feel that you have to change your personality or views to fit in or to succeed, because that isn’t the case at all. Again, the best of luck to you!

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The next question is from a young lady named Kat. A question that the Lady of the Manners spent a very long time researching in order to find a good answer. While this answer is the best one the Lady of the Manners was able to come up with, the Lady of the Manners still isn’t wholly satisfied with it and is a bit disheartened as a result:

My mother in law died, and I found it difficult to portray to the public that I was in mourning. As a goth, I already wear black. It is no longer appropriate to put on a hat with a veil to indicate mourning (though we love it for the club), and looks silly with my casual outfits for the grocery store, etc.

How, as a goth-in-black, can I indicate to the world that yes, someone DID die, and please treat me with gentleness as I’m sad.

Kat, the Lady of the Manners is very sorry for your loss. The Lady of the Manners is also sorry to say that there no longer seem to be any appropriate and real social conventions for indicating that someone is mourning, which is a shame. Wearing black clothing all the time is no longer a sign of mourning OR of being a Goth; it frequently means that the person simply prefers a monochromatic wardrobe. As to veils, and black-edged handkerchiefs and writing paper, those things seem to only be used by people with a taste for antique costuming. The Lady of the Manners suspects that if the average person were to receive a note on black-edged stationary, they wouldn’t realize the symbolic meaning of that black border.

After much researching and discussion with other wise people, the best suggestion the Lady of the Manners has is to create and wear a black armband, edged in grey or lavender. It is a subtle gesture, but it would be distinctive enough that people would ask you about it and then you could respond that there had been a death in the family, and you wished to indicate both your state of mourning and your need to be treated gently. As the Lady of the Manners said, it is not an entirely satisfactory answer, but is at least a small signifier of what you are feeling. Please do let the Lady of the Manners know if you decide to follow this bit of advice, and what sort of reactions you receive because of it.

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The third and final reader question of this Gothic Charm School Lesson is from Abrar, and is about how to find a balance between one’s true self and living and working in a conservative community:

I hope you’re doing very well. I want to congratulate you on The Yahoo Picks Profile article. Being an avid reader for so long, it was really exciting to read it, and put a face to your wise words.

I don’t really think I have an inquiry as much as puzzlement about a certain matter that has to do with the irony in life.

You see, I lived as Goth individual in a conservative community – now when I say “conservative”, I unfortunately mean a bigot and a narrow minded one. I have never really paid much attention to their frequent lapses of scorn and disapproval or their endless gossiping. I never committed any ill deed nor attempted to persuade any of my opinions, so I had no one to answer to; but the responsibilities in life force interactions. I’m 23 years of age and will soon be working as a high school teacher. I never wish to change who I am to suit their ways, but, being a Libra, I want to balance between who I am and what is expected of me. Being deprived of my gothic clothes and accessories will set me to panic mood! Yet, I know I can compensate for my loss later in the day. But I know this state of duality will make anxious, let alone miserable.

How can I compromise between myself and who they expect me to be? You have talked about young Goths in schools, students who are ostracized and ridiculed for being who they want to be. This might sound funny, but what about teachers?! I personally have never met, nor heard of a Goth teacher. I have no idea what to expect, except for abiding general guidelines meant for every teacher.

I felt silly for most of the time I was writing this email. I really don’t expect a column responding to it since it’s really a subject of minority. I honestly am happy with the thought of you, the Lady of the Manners, reading my little email.
Thank you for your great columns! I wish you the very best.
Abrar

Good heavens, working as a high school teacher? The Lady of the Manners respects anyone who decides to work as a teacher, and that respect is even higher for anyone who decides to work in the crazy environment that is a modern high school.

Goth teachers? While the Lady of the Manners is fortunate enough to be friends with several charming and brilliant teachers, none of them are Goth. They are, however, all very much their own people, and the Lady of the Manners is certain that they do not dampen or stifle their personalities at work. They obviously don’t share all of their thoughts and enthusiasms with their students, but they don’t try and stuff themselves into a cookie-cutter template of A Normal Teacher. In fact, the Lady of the Manners thinks that your being one of the Black-Clad and Spooky Masses might be an asset to your teaching! You will be living breathing proof to students that it is possible to be unconventional in personality and interests AND be a success as a “grown-up”. With luck, you can be a teacher and a confidant to your students; the sort of cool teacher that everyone hopes they have at some point in their time at school.

In terms of your appearance, no, you probably shouldn’t wear all of your extremely Goth clothing and accessories to the school. But there is nothing wrong with following in many a Corporate Goth’s footsteps and wearing classically-cut clothing in black or dark jewel tones, and accessorizing them with some elegantly designed Gothic jewelry. You should try to avoid the more clichéd and perhaps controversial designs that incorporate any religious symbols or coffins, but the Lady of the Manners sees absolutely nothing wrong with silver bats. Or, for that matter, skulls, but that is partially due to mainstream fashion deeming that skulls are merely an “edgy” motif. In fact, the fashion industry’s interest in dark and Gothic styles will work to your advantage when it comes to dressing for work; as long as you don’t wear anything that is obviously meant to be worn to a night club (PVC, corsets, fishnet, extremely tight or revealing clothing), a work-appropriate Goth wardrobe shouldn’t cause you any problems.

Will there be parents and other teachers who look askance at you? Absolutely. But don’t let other people’s reactions make you think you must change who you are. You stated that ”I have never really paid much attention to their frequent lapses of scorn and disapproval or their endless gossiping. I never committed any ill deed nor attempted to persuade any of my opinions”; the Lady of the Manners encourages you to continue with that, and to show by your behavior that you are above that sort of petty thinking. The Lady of the Manners is not going to fib to you: being polite and acting unconcerned by the disapproval of others isn’t always easy. (The Lady of the Manners has found that having a few trusted friends one can vent to privately in person or by other means of communication is vital.) But being true to yourself while not being antagonistic or impolite to people determined to upset you is an important skill to polish, and an even more important skill to instruct teenagers in. Good luck in the coming school year!

That, Snarklings, is that for this Gothic Charm School lesson. The next one will include more letters from readers (including a very heartfelt one from a “rather exasperated Snarkling” who has run into a dead end in trying to convince their mother that being a Goth isn’t a bad thing), and a book review for Tourniquet by Kim Lakin-Smith. (The very quick version of the upcoming review is that the Lady of the Manners adored Tourniquet, and is quite looking forward to the next book by this author. But the Lady of the Manners will happily burble in detail about it in the next lesson.)

And as always Snarklings, please feel free to write to Gothic Charm School!

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