Write Here, Write Now: Everyone has a Yellow Coat by Flora Weston
In this episode of Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast, host Erica Wagner talks with author Flora Weston about how asking a simple question about an ugly coat actually changed her life.
People aren’t always what you expect; it’s wise to pause before rushing to judgment. After a reading of “Everyone has a Yellow Coat,” host Erica Wagner talks with author Flora Weston about how asking a simple question about an ugly coat actually changed her life.
FLORA WESTON: Myself when I'm at my worst—I don't want people to take that and define who I am, because it's just a moment in time. You know?
ERICA WAGNER: This is Write Here, Write Now, a podcast brought to you by Vocal, an online platform for creators of all kinds and all levels of experience. It’s a place to post, to read, to be inspired. I’m your host, Erica Wagner.
This season, we’ll hear eight essays, all posted to Vocal by independent creators. Afterwards, we get to hear from the creators themselves- about what inspired them, what they’re working on, and what keeps them going. If you have any questions that linger after the episode, head to vocal dot media to leave a comment for the authors, right on their essay. Who knows- you might be inspired to write something yourself.
Here’s Write Here, Write Now.
ERICA: Each and every day, we encounter new things, new people, whether virtually, or in-person. Each of those encounters can leave us with an impression. Sometimes, those impressions turn to assumptions. This next piece encourages us to look past those assumptions, to do more than look- to ask. Here’s “Everyone Has a Yellow Coat” by Flora.
ERICA: That was “Everyone Has a Yellow Coat” by Flora Weston. I got the chance to sit down with Flora to hear more about her piece.
Well, we're just going to start with some basics, Flora. When did you first get started with writing? Was it Vocal that brought you to writing or have you always been a writer?
FLORA WESTON: I think more in a professional setting, for sure, like doing blogging stuff on Vocal. But I've always been an avid journalist and songwriter, and likes dabbling in poetry ever since I was a kid. I have a trunk of journals that started when I was seven. It has always been the outlet for life and it feels like things haven't happened until I wrote it down or something.
I'm actually a musician. I went to school for audio engineering. So I originally moved a couple years ago to kind of get into the gigging scene. And then COVID happened. So I just found myself with a lot of free time as I was on employment insurance. And that's how I actually found Vocal because I just needed a creative outlet because I was feeling quite stunted, I guess.
ERICA: Do you remember the first thing you ever wrote? Was it something in one of those journals?
FLORA WESTON: I think I remember when I was six or seven, I used to ... My mom is a grade one teacher. And so she has access to a binding book machine. So I would make these little fiction things about "The dream that I want is a golden retriever," or something like that. And then she'd bind it for me and I'd draw pictures in it.
My family is quite creative. My oldest sister is a screenwriter, and she is also an avid journaler. So I think I just grew up in the atmosphere that it was normal to write down everything. So I don't think I realized how important it was in my life until I moved away from home and traveled, and lived in different cities. And then I would reference how "oh, I've got to journal this" or something, with a boyfriend or something. And they were like, "That's weird." Not weird, but like lots of people don't do that. And I just didn't realize that it wasn't the norm, I guess.
ERICA: Tell me what inspired you to write this particular piece? What was the moment when you decided to take this subject on?
FLORA WESTON: So this whole story is about one of my best friends back home, and his mom has MS. And when I first met him and started getting close to him, he would wear this awful yellow coat and everyone made fun of him for it. But it rolled off him. It wasn't real making-fun-of. And I was one of the only people he told that it was one of the only things he wears that his mom can see him in. And so it was one of the only things that, no matter what, she knew it was him. And I remember kind of thinking back on that and kind of getting mad at people that we worked with, like internally. Just being like, "Why you just making fun of him when you don't even know why he wears it?" It's such a beautiful reason and a beautiful story. But I also really respected that he didn't want me to tell anyone because he was like, "It doesn't matter to me. I know why I wear it. And I am comfortable with that. And people who really want to know will ask. And people who don't, then, that's okay." I honestly think a lot of my friendship with this guy has really helped me see people differently. I don't necessarily think I was raised to look at the world coldly or anything, but I think he has helped me have a lot of peace. And just being yourself as well, just being like, "It doesn't matter what people think of me because I know what I am." But then also the opposite of why should I have negative opinions about people, that necessarily you don't even know why they are the way they are or experiences that they've been through, or what they're going through at the current moment. And I also think of myself when I'm at my worst. I don't want people to take that and define who I am, because it's just a moment in time. You know?
ERICA: This friendship is clearly very important to you. Have you spoken about the piece with the friend you've written about here? I wonder what his thoughts are.
FLORA WESTON: Yeah, I sent it to him and he was really touched. His mom has been going on a downward spiral within the last six months, so I think sending it to him at that time was somehow one of those magic parts of life when the timelines meet up right or something. Because he was feeling quite down. And then when people read the story and liked it, and then I sent it to him, it lifted his spirits quite a bit, and he appreciated that I told the story, I guess, and the way I did.
ERICA: Tell me about your choice to open it with observations of strangers on a subway car. How did you choose that opening? What ran through your mind?
FLORA WESTON: I think because a lot of times when you're with your friends on the subway, there's a lot of snap judgments or something. Like you're sitting with your friend and they're like, "Why doesn't that person stand up for the other person?" Or like, this guy's talking too loudly or they're listening to their music without any headphones. And there's a lot of people watching and observing. And I just like the idea of starting it that way, of realizing that, I guess representing it with the coats that they're wearing in order to tie into the story I wanted to tell. But also just taking one thing, like a piece of clothing, and how you have all these observations or thoughts that you could maybe figure out who they are from one look, which is just not realistic. But we do it all the time.
ERICA: You write in the piece that "I want to vow to forever keep opening my eyes, seeing the stories between thread and under skin until my mind drips honey," such a wonderful line. It's a great vow. Why do you think it's so important to keep opening your eyes this way?
FLORA WESTON: I think it's easy to get bitter or jaded and I think learning to be soft and kind is actually harder than people think it is, maybe. And I think it's to keep opening your eyes and asking questions and being present and getting to know people for who they are rather than just how they represent themselves on social media or in a social setting or in a work setting. I think it's just really important to ask the hard questions because I think when you do actually ask questions, there's a lot of fear of being the question asker. But I think the surprising thing that I've learned is that most people want to talk. Most people want to tell their story and be understood. And just kind of breaking through the surface stuff is really when you make great connections and start to understand each other. And I think to be understood is what lots of people crave out of life in general.
ERICA: How's it going, keeping this vow? Because it can be challenging in the world we live in, perhaps, to think the best of people and want to enter their realities.
FLORA WESTON: Yeah. I think it is easy to get stuck in negative spirals, especially even when things in your country or the world are going on, and it's overwhelming and you don't understand why decisions are being made. And I think the only thing I cling to is knowing all the beautiful things, like relationships and conversations I've had with people I love, but also strangers that have helped shape my worldview and how I see other people. And that's kind of what I try to remember when things seem dark or something. And that doesn't necessarily mean you have to be like a positive rainbow princess all the time, because I think that's unhealthy in a different kind of way. But I think just having the safety of sharing with people and being heard is just a beautiful gift that we can give to each other. If we try.
ERICA: You tell this wonderful story about your friend, but then you expand the essay out in a marvelous way, saying that everyone has a yellow coat story. People have these parts of themselves that they may not reveal. What's the last yellow coat story you heard that shifted your perspective, that's not about this particular friend?
FLORA WESTON: I think a girlfriend I'm close with. I think she, in the last year and a bit, has gained weight and she was getting comments from people at work. And what they didn't know was she's on meds, that that is the first symptom that you can get, and she's struggling with mental health. And if they knew that she was struggling so much, it wouldn't matter if she's gained 30 pounds in a year. It doesn't matter. What matters is she's still here and she is choosing to live. Because some people decide not to keep going, and 30 pounds doesn't matter.
ERICA: You've mentioned two yellow coat moments you've had with friends. I'm curious if you've had any with people you're not close to, perhaps a stranger.
FLORA WESTON: I feel like for a long time, I was really into a party scene. There have been lots of really cool moments of talking to strangers. And I remember there was this one guy at a bar in Vancouver, and he had this really big necklace and his buddies were like roasting him for wearing it. And then I asked him what it was and his mom died of cancer a few years earlier. And it was like her ashes in the necklace. And I don't know how many people would've asked. But it was really cool to just meet someone. And then, you know, you asked them about their mom and they just talk and talk and talk. And I don't know, that was a really cool night. And if I or friends didn't ask a stranger what the big clunky necklace was, we wouldn't have heard that story.
ERICA: What do you think about the piece now? Reflecting on it a little later. Because there's always the moment when you write something down and then you return to it, and I wonder what you think about it now.
FLORA WESTON: I'm proud I wrote it. I was quite shocked when it was recognized. I think for a long time, my writing on Vocal has been just for me. And I don't even really share it with my friends, because I want it to be a singular outlet just for my own sanity or something. And so when you guys said that you really liked it, it was kind of a good encouragement for me. And I feel like I was in a rut creatively, so just to have that little pat on the back, I'm really proud that I put myself out there.
ERICA: I'm really pleased to hear that.
The impetus to assess and to judge is a strong one. But Flora persuasively reminds us what beauty we might be leaving behind in the process.
Next time on Write Here, Write Now, we’ll hear a piece about pushing past a different set of assumptions: the ones we have of ourselves. That will be “Why I’m Never Working a 9-5 Job Again” by RJ Wade.
Whoever you are, whatever your story, Vocal belongs to you. If you liked the show, come be a part of where it all got started. Join me and the rest of our brilliant Creators on Vocal.media. We hope you'll join our community, where you can post, read and comment.
If you like what you hear, join us for season two of Write Here, Write Now, when we dive into stories from the Vocal plus Fiction Anthology. And of course- be sure to rate, review and subscribe to Write Here, Write Now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Erica Wagner- thanks for listening.
Write Here, Write Now is produced by Vocal in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team: Jacob Frommer and Andrew Herwitz and the team at Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Ashton Carter, Rebecca Chaisson, Carter Wogahn, and Morgane Fousse.
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About the author
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions