I have been using the same hat for water aerobics for several years now. It’s a reversible bucket hat—black on one side, with a sexy cowgirl print on the other side. For the exercise class, the hat is perfect. It shields my face without dragging in the water. In the summer I wear the light colored print side out, and the black underside helps shade my eyes. In the winter I turn the hat around and wear the dark side out, so it absorbs the sunshine and helps keep me warm on cold January days. It is washable: if it blows off and lands in the water, no harm done. I have worn it three times a week to the pool for years.
Over time, it simply became my swim hat, something I didn’t even look at, even as it became old and faded. In fact, if I didn’t know the print was of cowgirls, I might have trouble figuring it out:
Here’s a sample (taken from a fabric site) of what the cowgirl print looked like new:
One day I looked at my hat drying over the shower rail and thought: that’s an old hat. I hadn’t noticed because my hat itself had become “old hat,” that is, it had become predictable and familiar. So familiar I didn’t even notice that it was faded beyond recognition.
Writers are always trying to avoid “old hat.” We don’t want to use clichés or tell stories that have been told the same way a thousand times. Clichés become clichés because they are perfect for the job. When you’re afraid, the hair on the back of your neck really does stand up, but now that’s such a clichéd way of describing fear that it really is old hat. It’s gone from being (like my hat) cute and fun to being something so faded you pass over it without even really seeing it.
But I think the biggest old hat danger for writers is not a way of writing, but a way of seeing. We should not pass over the ordinary without looking closely. Henry James said to writers: "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" If we let our world become old hat, then we won’t really look at it. We won’t be able to describe it in new and fresh ways.
Don’t let your everyday life become old hat—faded because you no longer pay attention.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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