Maybe she was testing to see if anyone was paying attention.
Maybe she was testing market receptivity to broadening the product line.
Or maybe she was just having a dyslexic moment.
Sure capped our after-Christmas leisurely stroll in downtown Sonora, CA.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Maybe she was testing to see if anyone was paying attention.
|Talk to me, honey:|
Saturday, December 25, 2010
"...rather than being a pest, mistletoe can have a positive effect on biodiversity, providing high quality food and habitat for a broad range of animals in forests and woodlands worldwide."
Turns out the the little misfit has enormous value after all.
Institutions deeply rooted in traditions and hierarchy can hastily dismiss their mistletoe workers and never count the loss in human terms. People drunk on their own power can treat their staff like pests to be eradicated.
"But mistletoe is also capable of growing on its own; like other plants it can produce its own food by photosynthesis."
Mistletoe brings people together. (People kiss under it!) That connection, multiplied globally (over cyberspace, in this instance) sustains the mistletoe when arrogant trees refuse to lend their branches for support.
Long live mistletoe!
Shooting Down Mistletoe
|Talk to me, honey:|
Thursday, December 16, 2010
“The bacterium, scraped from the bottom of Mono Lake in California and grown for months in a lab mixture containing arsenic, gradually swapped out atoms of phosphorus in its little body for atoms of arsenic.”
‘It’s a really nice story about adaptability of our life form,’ one of the scientists glowed.
“The cells grown in the arsenic came out about 60 percent larger than cells grown with phosphorus, but with LARGE, EMPTY, INTERNAL SPACES.” (caps mine)
“I was feeling sorry for the bugs,” one of them said.
You can live your life for the institution all you want. As for me, I will tend to filling my internal spaces, which have become less large and less empty with more time and distance.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
"There's a line from a Leonardo DiCaprio movie:
'Know what you have, what you want, what you can do without: inventory control.'
— Frank Wheeler, Revolutionary Road
I had to pause the movie to stew in the parallel to my life right now.
The story is set in the 1950s and portrays suburban angst and lives of quiet despair within cozy white bungalows. The angst would ring hollow if set in contemporary times, when holding on to a job and a home would mean you’ve escaped the famine…for now.
Hollywood, and the fans that support this massive system, make “living your dream” a religion.
I don’t dare claim the privilege of having a dream. Right now it’s a daily victory if I manage to quash the fear of my husband also becoming unemployed.
Being unemployed has me envying the postal worker who complained she has to work on Saturdays. It has me being even nicer and more appreciative toward service workers, retail clerks and food servers. Everyone with a job is doing the honorable thing.
When I did have a job, I spent money as one who makes burnt sacrifices at the altar of the implacable god of the economy. I was pumping out stimulus money in a microeconomics way, picking up the tab when friends and I would lunch. What serendipity that I spent the first half of 2009 doing what would turn out to be a dry run for being unemployed: I lived on half my net income, resolutely paying off my credit card debt with the other half. It’s how I learned what I can do without.
Turns out, plenty. I can do without twice-monthly massages and monthly chiro adjustments, haircuts, meals out that hardly satisfy, movies at the cinemax, several bags full of clothes and knickknacks on a whim every weekend, and any acquisition from a junk mail catalog."
Eleven months later, I find that my outlook is different. It's not about what we're doing without (and don't even miss), it's what we had all along that barely merited a glance.
Happy Thanksgiving. Tomorrow when I celebrate another birthday, it will be with full awareness of the abundance with which we have been blessed.
Friday, November 19, 2010
I am afraid of my sewing machine. There, I’ve said it. It wouldn’t matter much, except my fear is what stopped me dead on the tracks as I zipped along toward my reinvention. In my dream new identity, I am a derelict clothing designer, upending mediocrity in women’s apparel and thumbing my nose at cubicle convention. I offer slices of delicious escape to women weary of conforming. I aim to dress fellow misfits who want to make peace with their weirdness.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
I marked the silver anniversary of my immigration this past summer. At this point I’ve lived in California more than half my life. People from here don’t ask me, “Where are you from?” as often as they did in the early years. What hasn’t changed is the way some Filipinos react when they see me for the first time: they stare. Openly and unrelentingly, as if they were seeing me in a line-up from behind a two-way mirror.
They want to know if I’m a fellow Filipino. Unable to conclude this from my accent or perhaps the lack thereof, and hesitant to ask me outright, they resort to sizing up my features. I’ve been greeted in Niponggo by the Japanese and optimistically proclaimed Korean by a Korean. The Vietnamese ladies at the nail salon usually ask if I’m Chinese. The Chinese are extra nice to me at their restaurants. I must remind them of their eccentric aunt.
But my countrymen and women, they stare. More so the women. That’s how I know they’re Filipino. In trying to identify me, they give themselves away. We’re not talking about the adoring gaze that your dog bestows upon you post-Kibbles. I am reminded of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which pod people point and scream to “out” those unlike them.
Staring is taboo in most Western cultures except in Hollywood, which has its own culture the way the Vatican is a country within a city. If we lived in Hollywood, for which I thank God we do not, I am certain none of the attention would be wasted on me. Unless they were casting for the mother of Catherine Zeta-Jones, whom I somewhat resemble if my brother-in-law were to be believed.
A former colleague who expatriated to Japan encountered the opposite phenomenon: the natives’ aversion to looking him in the eye, even during conversation, rendered him an invisible, unwelcome stranger. He rationalized that in a society as compactly quartered and politely ordered as Japan’s, the last bastion of personal space is visual. Sardined in a bullet train, one must compensate for the pressing of flesh against flesh with sustained look-aways.
I feel it behooves us to retain identifying behaviors that would preserve our heritage in this diverse land. We can be mini versions of Vatican City. Thus, I am preparing to engage in staring, and not only dabble, but be downright adept at it.
Friday, November 5, 2010
I was getting ready to send out a Friday wind-down greeting on Facebook. The message would have encouraged friends and family to put down the workday yoke, take off the company mask and spend time being only who they choose to be as individuals. Easy for me to say; I've been self-employed for a year.
Would the transition be at great cost? Would it make their Monday mornings suck even worse? Is it all that bad being part of a machine that works, given the stability and benefits?
I chafe at the good-soldier expectations that come with employment but look around my house and see everyday examples that more can be accomplished as a part of a whole—even as a mediocre part: one light in my outdated chandelier; one blade on the ceiling fan; one leg on the table.
When I post status updates as a dance teacher, the key message is, "Join us!" The implication being that life, meaning yours, is lacking if you don't learn to cha-cha with us. I position our dance studio as something you need to make your life richer, to color the corporate grays away.
When I post a link to this blog, the message is "Come away with me." Turn your back on the blur and static, and focus on this one thought of mine, how it affects you, what thoughts it might provoke.
For a loner, I'm such a joiner. For a joiner, I'm a loner. I am an intensely private introvert who has built a career that hinges on incessant public contact. I am a regular contributor of photos to flickr.com who has yet to join a flickr group even when I know that it will spur me to create with even more passion. I am the youngest of six who lives 8,000 miles of ocean away from siblings, has visited once in 25 years, and has never wished I had a twin. But I devour the substitute memories contained in my sister's Facebook album collages!
I am a believer in the Christian faith, embracing the definition of sanctified as "set apart from the world," yet intrigued by the Buddhist perspective of everyone and everything being one and indistinct. The latter viewpoint draws me in with its take on suffering, conflict and oppression: if ego is a fictional construct, conflict with another is conflict with ourselves. Why fight? Being oppressed (by bosses, road rage drivers, rude customer "service" clerks) is less a personal affront, because even the oppressors suffer—from their own diminished status as human beings lacking in compassion.
I am a Filipino ex-pat who has by choice acculturated apart from the immigrant community, but has of late realized that my privilege as a bicultural person comes with the duty to voice the experience to validate the experience of others.
I am the patient nibbler of pomegranate and atis, with seeds that must be teased apart but flesh that my mouth can only appreciate en masse.
Monday, November 1, 2010
My friend then quoted Henry Vandyke: “Tact is the unsaid part of what you think; its opposite, the unthought part of what you say.”
Expressing ourselves triggers vulnerability. There could be good or bad consequences for both us and the ones who hear our words. I once heard a simple, memorable, and sensible gauge for deciding whether to say something or not. I wrote about it
here. We ask ourselves, "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" If it meets all three conditions, then we may say it.
But what if it's true and necessary, but unpleasant? I thank God I'm not the boss who has to take employees aside and tell them they need a breath mint. Or the cop/minister/doctor who has to let a family know their loved one is a fatality.
In our ordinary lives, the unpleasant truth is more likely to be that someone is driving us crazy. I'm so lousy at lying I don't even bother. I haven't been a big fan of white lies, either, but I've managed a clear distinction in my head between hypocrisy and civility. Even if I can't stand the sight and sound of you, if we have to work together, you can always rely on my professional courtesy toward you — no matter how big of a jerk you're behaving toward me. Once that working relationship is over, though, you won't see me initiating or reciprocating any social interaction. My silence will say what was left unsaid. (Hear that, former co-worker? former boss?)
I wish I could be as unambiguous with the friends I've de-friended over the years. I stopped all contact with the first one because she was the kind of flaky we're all supposed to outgrow; the second for her undeserved sense of entitlement (to my resources, time and undivided attention); the third for unrelenting, clueless self-centeredness; the fourth for crying over the smallest thing, thus turning the office into a daycare circus; and the fifth (and last, I hope) for being a staggering, obnoxious drunk at a party while expecting me to babysit her.
I haven't begun to figure out if there might have been any way to speak the truth kindly to any of the aforementioned. As relaxed as I usually am about friendship, my standards exclude the flaky, the leeches, and the heavy baggages who don't even try to control their emotions or addictions. If you come up with a loving way to say that to a person, you know where to find me.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Know that the fog is fleeting, and the sun will always win out.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
"It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark,
Better far that you light just one little candle — all you need's a tiny spark.
If we'd all say a prayer that the world would be free
The wonderful dawn of a new day would be...
And if everyone lit just one little candle
What a bright world this would be!"
With my dimming memory (which I blame on perimenopause, the convenient catchall for all my physical woes), that's my best recollection of the lyrics, anyway.
Yes, it feels so good, freeing and cathartic to vent to a friend, write an angry letter (then rip it up), or come up with one brilliant retort that silences that irritating little yappermouth who's been snarking up your tree.
But if that's become a way of life for you, not an occasional release of steam, I'm guessing you're walking around with your finger on the giant button labeled, "Just try pushing this."
And you're not happy. So who's got the remote control on that?
How do I know? I fight that battle in my head every day, dear reader. I'll be serenely picking cat fur off the furniture one moment, and the next my heart will be pounding as my thoughts careen toward My Personal List of Unjust Utterances.
Grrr, I remember a host of cutting remarks that have knocked my ego onto its front teeth or dared me to unsheathe my saber of a tongue.
"I would never wear something like that." (It's good to know your limitations, girly.)
"I could never live where you live." (You'll never have to, you have Doctor Daddy buying you a condo.)
"Isn't that a stretch for you?" (I can stretch far enough to connect my knuckle to your jaw.)
"You'd be pretty if it weren't for that chin." (I'm Leno's love child.)
"You speak English very well." (for a non-white person?)
"My wife says you did better than she had expected you would." (And you have no qualms repeating this to me?)
"You have young children, you should be home with them." (from a two-bit editor trying to intimidate me into quitting)
"We picked the other applicant because she's young and single, and her interests reflect that." (from another editor who forgot there are things such as birthdays, weddings, and oh, this little thing called non-discrimination)
In the tradition of Dave Barry, I add: I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.
Funny how my usually foggy memory manages to retrieve all the bad things without delay. I have yet to locate the manual on setting preferences for memory access. I think the drop-down menu is in the vicinity of the heart, not the head.
By the time I'm to the bottom of My List of Unjust Utterances, I'm walking around in a dark cloud of buzzing flies and dust the likes of which Pigpen in the Peanuts strip has never seen. It won't take much effort to grow that list. Or balloon that dark cloud.
But would those trapped miners in Chile choose to stay in darkness? That would be insane. The world cheers, and I right along, as each miner is brought back into the light. I just need to snatch myself back.
If only it were as simple as switching on my head lamp. I am always on the prowl for switches that can toggle me over to the bright side. Happily, it doesn't take much to do that, either.
Today, my friend, Jan, posted this thought on Facebook:
"Being happy doesn't mean everything is perfect. It means you have decided to see beyond the imperfections."
Aaaand I'm sunny-side up again!
The keyword here is 'decided." Happiness is a choice. It's not contingent on every condition being met. (But I do think happiness and hope are intimately related.)
In the quiet evening hours, my husband is used to me randomly piping up, "Contentment." I'm bookmarking the moment. It's a good way to balance our interaction so that not everything that comes out of my mouth is a whine.
What do I choose to be happy about today?
How about this: you're reading me right now. You've given me your time. You might decide to sample a couple other posts here. You might even come back. I'm on cloud 9! (That's the cloud above the dark cloud.)
"I see you," as they saluted each other on James Cameron's Avatar. I see you in Australia, China and the Philippines lighting up on my analytics audience map when my Canadian, Mexican and U.S. readers tuck in for the night. I see you in the U.K. and Germany checking in. There you are, Saudi Arabia. Hello!
You've lent your energy to this space we've carved out for us, not even two months in existence. My Follow widget works now, too -- woohoo! Hearts to Kristine, my first official follower who isn't related to me by blood or marriage. Soon the little page views counter will say 1,000, and we'll all be flicking on our lights in the darkness to let each other know we're here.
Be brave, say something out loud in the comments section, OK? I'll be listening for you, dear one.
|Talk to me, honey:|
Thursday, October 7, 2010
The students freeze. Faces blank out. To a generation that tells time by cellphone, clockwise is archaic. Even those with alarm clocks on their bedside table rely on LED numerals. They can't read what the big hand and the little hand might be trying to tell them.
The generation gap spans widely at the dance studio where I teach. But that's OK. You couldn't get me to tell time by the sundial in my garden. And the only time we've ever used the likeness of an hourglass was with a miniature minute version that timed my daughters as they brushed their teeth.
It's not the speed of technology I rue, it's the lag of language. And it goes both ways. In another class, one of the 20-something teachers, instructing the men not to squeeze their partners' hands with their thumbs, said, "Your partner is not a Gameboy." Dead silence from the mostly middle-aged crowd.
Despite these minor communication blips, the art of ballroom dancing continues to find appreciation across all age groups. It's a joy to watch our students become fluent in the language of movement, attuned to the meaning behind the lift of a hand, the nudge on the back, the flick of the wrist. They grin widely as they jump on the rhythm train and it takes them on a breathtaking ride. Amid the huffing and puffing, there are outbursts of frustration, but just as many bursts of applause and hop-skips of delight.
Learning to dance requires such absorption in the moment that whether the class is an hour or three, it's always a pleasant shock to glance at the clock—the one with the big hand and little hand—and find we've been fastforwarded. We set goals for the next class, review the accomplishments of the hour just passed, and hug friends who were strangers barely an hour before.
If that big clock on the wall could wear a smile on its face, it would.
Friday, October 1, 2010
The predictable is comfortable! Familiarity breeds comfort, not always contempt. I color outside the lines and it's curtains for me.
Now, when I say creative, I'm not talking about Van Gogh-proportioned, cut-off-my-left-earlobe angst. (I remember as a child being horrified to learn this about the painter.) I am nothing if not even-tempered day to day as well as in crisis. Nor am I inclined to blow things out of proportion, as author Pearl S. Buck describes:
The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.Please, no. Particularly the part about failure being death. I'm still alive!
Copyblogger's Brian Clark wrote about mental blocks to creative thinking, particularly the pressure to conform and be viewed as "normal." He calls it the unquestioning consensus that inhibits your natural creative abilities.
Commenter Frank observed:
To revisit Point #7:
“Most of what keeps us civilized boils down to conformity, consistency, shared values, and yes, thinking about things the same way everyone else does. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but if you can mentally accept that it’s actually nothing more than groupthink that helps a society function, you can then give yourself permission to turn everything that’s accepted upside down and shake out the illusions."
You do, however, have to be prepared to be seen as interfering with the function of society. That can be a very dangerous place to be – thus all the groupthink.
"Creativity is best achieved by people who know that it is not always a perfect good. It has its price, and the price is sometimes very high. You threaten people – sometimes very ambitious and intelligent people, who can retaliate."
I've learned to be skeptical of opportunities that purport to seek my creativity and exuberance. I made the mistake of accepting such an opportunity, offered by ambitious, intelligent, uber-accomplished but rigid thinkers. I tried but failed to please them. It's true what Seth Godin says, that you won't succeed by giving people what you think they need — you must give them what they demand. They demanded obeisance. Before I realized it, I had been pounded into a dried out bouillon cube version of my formerly inspired self.
Many creatives must not only live among pragmatists but make a living with skill sets that don't involve creativity. It's still a pragmatist's world down here among the rank and file. We die a little every day, not from failing, but from gradually losing the will to try something innovative.
These past 11 months after walking away from a salaried position, I gave myself permission to try chucking the cubicle that had shaped me in its likeness. I was selective about where I applied next. From refusing to be square, my bank statements dwindled to a series of round zeroes. I wasn't surprised. As long as my spouse remained employed, I was willing to fail — in the eyes of the income-driven, anyway — to revive the parts of me that had fainted from the drought.
Failure of this kind does not equate with defeat!
Everyone has a someday list. Someday I'll find the time to dabble in photography...to dive into a craft project...to tackle that mess in my closets...to startle my inner entrepreneur awake...to dive into the mosh pit of social media...to finally unleash a blog and let it drag me in whatever direction it takes. I checked off everything on my list.
For me, the terror of unstructured days gave way to stretching out the day as far into night as my stamina would allow. I still forgot to stop and eat lunch on some days, but now I was working on things that fulfilled and challenged me. I discovered there were still things that could surprise and move me.
What remains to be seen is if this spate of productivity will stay constant and cushion me when I return to the pragmatist's world. Or will I have to hold up a white flag and whisper "Shush!" to my creative side while I'm at work?
Tell me if you've been through something similar. How did your cubicle rejection turn out?
|Talk to me, honey:|
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Come to me, and I will give you rest.
I'm letting go.
Go in peace.
Kill the fatted calf.
I want what's rightfully mine.
I give up. I can't get through to you.
I'm going to wring your neck.
It was this big.
Come give your Auntie a big, slobbery kiss, you darling boy.
I know you'll come up with some good ones.
(And when you do, share them in the comments section!)
It's a wonder we understand half the things people say and do when we have all these filters to warp the message.
That's why I think writers and professional communicators are vastly underappreciated. Ditto lyricists. The good ones manage to craft a message that slogs through the muck of our mindset at the moment. The excellent ones even make it look easy. The slimy ones churn out steer manure and call it a compliment.
Since the professional message-senders have such a tough time, there ought to be a reciprocal career for professional understanders. Not merely interpreters, but honest to goodness understanders. Maybe they're already employed, but their titles obscure what they do. Some are called shrinks or spiritual advisors. Or mothers, best friends, soulmates — the latter group unpaid but no less skilled at what they do.
Assigning meaning is a human ability. It's usually exercised in snap decisions, first impressions, and unfortunately, gossip-mongering. Discovering true meaning is a function of the intellect working in harmony with the soul, usually over time.
How to reverse the pollution of misinterpretation? I'd say we start by practicing two clichés that have undeservedly earned a bad rap.
The first is, "Give the other fellow the benefit of the doubt."
The second is, "There's always two sides to a coin."
I promise to pause before deciding to believe that So-and-So said Such-and-Such. I commit to considering what else the other person could have meant apart from how I took it to mean. I will make the effort to run my strong opinions through the sieve of "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" to choose how and which ones I do express.
And if I forget, leap to conclusions, take instant offense or swallow a flatterer's line, I promise to view a poorly dubbed martial arts movie. The mouths not matching the words will serve to remind me that the pollution of misinterpretation will persist unless I do something about it in my own small way.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Or, you can weave your mark into the warp and weft of conversation, interaction and transaction. You become integrated and integral to the fabric, and ripping you out will mean destroying the fabric.
Consider your approach as you go about your day.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
There's a pile-up of coffee filters on my kitchen window sill this week. It's a signal (SOS) to the joggers and dogwalkers that the person who lives here is on deadline. Panicked by my procrastination. Fighting the sleepies. Coffee to the rescue.
Didn't housewives of old put pies on their sill to cool? At least that's what I remember from cartoons. My poor passersby will have to settle for used filters. I'm recycling them when they're dry.
Do you glance into people's windows when they leave the drapes open and turn on the lights at dusk? I do. My husband's usually at the wheel, and I have the luxury of rubbernecking. I like to project myself into what I imagine life might be like in their homes.
When they see the coffee filters, what would my life seem like from the outside looking in? Would they want to trade places with me?
One thing for sure, our house seems like a friendly place to dogs and cats who are passing through. One morning we awoke to find four plump puppies on our porch. They'd been dropped off across the street, judging from the crate that lay on the curb. They made a beeline for our house.
The neighborhood cats lounge on the lawn, slinking off when we appear at the door. Everyone is welcome. I logged the visit of one of them here.
Five Septembers ago, the cat who would be ours for life showed up. We didn't know it at the time. He was a few notches higher in feline beauty than the rest. But it took a gunshot to the chest to prompt me to claim him.
I'll tell you about it when I get my head above the pile of compositions awaiting my editing.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
One of my favorite tasks when I wrote for a newspaper was to profile collectors in California’s Central Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills. We featured folks who collected nativity sets, plaid lunchboxes, antique kitchenware, and so on.
Collectors have a peculiar mindset. They lock onto a category, then hunt and gather with ferocity. They know the stories behind each of their finds.
The question that nipped at my ankles was, “When is it collecting and when is it hoarding? Where is the line?”
I asked one collector, “When do you know you’ve collected enough?”
“When the space you’ve dedicated to it is full,” he said simply.
For some, that space is expandable. That’s probably why storage rental is ubiquitous in the United States. For others, the space never reaches capacity, because it’s an emotional void.
U.K. blogger creativevoyage noted,
"…once people are doing what they love they need less money because they need fewer ‘treats’ to get through their horrible jobs.”
Is this hitting close to home? Oh, all right. I’ll be the bad example here. Geez, chicken.
Here’s my story, sad but true.
In the early ‘90s, having acquired a house to fill, I amassed clothes, shoes, purses, tchotchkes and kitsch to hang on walls or arrange on surfaces. I call it overcompensation for a childhood clad entirely in hand-me-downs. Raise your hand if you were the youngest of six. Sympathy clucks all around. Mini me owned exactly one doll (beheaded by brutes my parents swore were my brothers) and two stuffed toys—Dopey and Mugsy—memorable in their scarcity.
Many items ended up cohabiting in our garage for decades. I eventually exhumed these finds as ambiance setters and statement pieces in my office, where most people didn’t know what to make of them. Taken together, the knickknacks proclaimed, “Here works a woman who, unlike you, never asks, ‘What is it for?’ She is fascinated by non-functional objects. She has no intention of ever finding a practical application for any of them. They are all loved for themselves.” The merchandising stopped just short of commanding the viewer to embrace the eccentric and kiss her ring.
Part of me still likes to think that had I worked within a markedly different company culture, the statement might have been interpreted as, “You have entered a safe zone for creative thinkers.” I call it overcompensation for a career spent trying to fit square pegs in round holes.
When the new minimalism took hold, I declared myself a conscientious objector. I understood how the purging of possessions might seem a logical response to the crappy state of the economy. But all it does is feed the delusion that conscience-stricken, privileged people, by choosing to have less, somehow level the playing field between them and those summarily stricken from the payroll.
I can attest to this, because one morning I was the first kind of stricken, and by that afternoon, I was the second kind. And we had fun, fun, fun till her daddy took the T-bird away.
Purgers have a choice. They are not choosing to be poor, merely divested of their clutter. The masses of nouveau poor do not, generally speaking, receive gainful employment from one’s tidied up closet, with the exception of the relative few who work for the charities that resell these purged items. To my knowledge, a purging by one household has yet to avert a foreclosure next door.
However, something good has come out of the nation’s urge to purge. Most unexpectedly, I have found my great love of acquisition for its own sake replaced by a more consuming passion: upcycling. Global handmade marketplace etsy.com’s credo, “reuse, repurpose, recycle” has inspired many avid collectors, including me, to redirect their energies.
Upcyling is the new collecting
I still shop, but now each trip is a thoughtful acquisition-for-mergers endeavor. Of late, I have been merging the collar of a serviceable shirt with the plain neckline of another; the crinoline of a child’s outgrown outfit with the scalloped hemline of a shrug. A lace scarf has fused with the sleeve of a handsewn ballgown. The embroidery on a pair of jeans is affianced to the bodice of a fall frock.
Resulting from these mergers are morphed apparel with renewed purpose. The target market is the mindful consumer unmoved by mall mentality. Where purgers and mergers intersect, crisis gives way to opportunity.
Upcyclers aren’t hoarding, we’re building inventory for our small businesses. Mission-driven collecting seems to have dissolved the retail therapist bent in me. In the transition, I may have upcycled myself.
We do it not just because it’s healthy for the environment and our pocketbooks, but because it’s challenging. It’s creative. It’s collaborative, in that inspiration on what to do with tarnished silver spoons (make garden markers!) in turn inspires ideas on rescuing shrunken wool sweaters (make felted flower brooches!) Who else is going to find uses for the piles and piles of stuff that the new minimalists evict? Might as well be us, and we might as well generate some income out of upcycling as much of it as we can.
Our reputation is as shiny as a ketchup-burnished penny. Upcycling is the new collecting. The new minimalism isn’t so objectionable to me now—as long as it’s practiced by someone else.
Purge away, America. We await your discards with relish.
What sort of things have you rid yourself of lately?
What have you happened upon and triumphantly taken home to transform?
Thursday, September 9, 2010
I began embellishing an apple green slipdress on August 26.
This is what it looked like. I shelved it for about a week while I wrestled with decision-making. There are always too many options, too many ways to go with an upcycling project like this.
This dress marked a turning point for me. Previous to this, I let my own peculiarities rule. The armpits always had to be concealed, since we raise our arms in much of the choreography we teach at the ballroom dance studio. I always asked myself, "Would I wear this, and will it fit me, in case no one buys it?"
Now I'm able to distance myself from the wearables I create. I have way too many clothes as it is! These things I make will need to find other homes. I cannot pre-judge them as potential rejects before they've even had a chance to be seen.
Once, I bought a particularly frivolous pink lace jumpsuit on etsy. I'm not one to censor myself with the ever-practical, "But where will I wear it?" The seller wrote, "I knew you were out there!" when she shipped it. I'll have to remind myself of that when I cross over to the seller side of etsy. As one of the bloggers put it, "You're not trying to convince people to buy your product. You're looking to reach the people who will."
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
"You've been home alone too long," Steve said when he heard me talking to Charlie. "You talk to the cat and the laptop." I think Steve minds only because he keeps mistaking my out-loud remarks for attempts at conversation with him.
The cat and the laptop have become my must-haves during this reinvention phase. Although I think the cat has a few more merit badges. He has singlehandedly averted empty-nest syndrome, underemployment stir-craziness, and perimenopausal mood extremes. No prescription necessary.
Monday, August 30, 2010
I feel protective of it. It seems to do just fine when the wind kicks up. It just clings tighter. The soil isn't fertile or watered often, but that's how morning glories thrive.
It's keeping an eye on the sky. It doesn't know the word "impossible." It might be thinking it's a tree. By fall I hope it will at least have clambered over the fence and gotten a glimpse of what's on the other side.
It's hard to resist the urge to make it a metaphor. Late bloomers, ugly ducklings and fledgling small business owners. Check, check, check. Here's to all of us! Let's keep our eye on the sky, and cling fast to what keeps us grounded.
Morning glories turn their trumpets to the sky, and nothing in nature mocks them for it. They do not aspire to be blue, they embody blue.
|A dose (nose) of reality|
Saturday, August 28, 2010
The current project had been a lime and lemon-colored slipdress, but that got preempted yesterday. I needed something to wear to the waltz workshop I was co-teaching this afternoon. I pulled out a long chiffon dress that had been hanging in my closet for more than a year. Then I remembered why I hadn't worn it recently: the chiffon overlay had shrunk in the washing machine, but the polyester lining stayed the same. So now the lining was showing. I had to shorten it.
I lucked upon the right shade of magenta lace in my stash to lengthen the chiffon hemline. But I noticed how much the magenta just popped while lying next to a moss shrug and a chartreuse blouse, from which I had harvested strips to add to the hemline of the lime slipdress.
The gears started turning, and I added more to the dress than just a lacy hem. You can see its evolution at my flickr site.
View more photos here.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
First night: Charlie stayed under the bed, except for a brief time next to me in the middle of the night. Second day, he used the plastic shoe box I had filled with litter and set on the bathroom floor. I awoke at 3 a.m. smelling poo, and discovered that he had peed in the box but pooed on the floor next to it. I had brought a small broom and dust pan for such contingencies, and mouthwash to disinfect. No problem.
By 10:30 Saturday morning, I was free of all work obligations. Steve was working the entire Saturday, so I changed into jeans and took Charlie out in his stroller. A couple of women gasped, giggled, and then went, "Oh, how cute." A boy playing ball on the hotel lawn had the last say: "It's a lion."
Charlie and I enjoyed a two-hour hike along the Marina and the bay. Along the shore was a man arranging rocks in stacks that defied gravity. "Wow," I said as I passed. "Just something to do," he shrugged. "I'm all for it!" I called out, which brought a smile to his face.
We passed a couple of big dogs, but they were on leashes, so there was no trouble. Charlie retreated under the canopy of his stroller whenever he was feeling insecure. The rest of the time, his huge green eyes peered through the mesh, noting the ducks, the boats, the kids, the sources of different noises. He had ample room in the stroller to stretch out his two-foot furry blond frame and 16-inch bushy tail.
During our stroll, I met another hotel guest, an older woman who owns two Maine Coon cats she'd named Bart and Lisa (after the Simpsons). Maine Coons are cousins to Norwegian Forest cats, so she had a soft spot for big cats like Charlie.
By the time we got back to our room he was much more relaxed. No more hiding under the bed. He patrolled the room like he owned it. I went to lunch at the hotel restaurant with a good book, then took a two-hour nap. When I woke up, I had a crick in my neck from the hotel pillows. I should've brought my memory foam pillow.
Steve walked a few paces behind, catching comments I probably wasn't meant to hear, like, "That poor cat." That one got under his skin. He brooded about it. I left Charlie with Steve for a few minutes to browse in a stained glass shop. A woman came in and announced to no one in particular, "That cat is not happy." "What's the matter with it?" I asked her. "There's a cat oustide, in a stroller." "I know, it's my cat. What's wrong with it?" "His ears are pointed straight up." "Oh, he's overstimulated, that's all. Too many strange noises, " I said.
Later, Steve came up with what he would've said had he heard her: "Oh, he perks up when he's around intelligent people."
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I think you'll agree that the healthy perspective to take on sensuous dances is that since we've committed to dancing it, we may as well give it the sensuality it deserves. Otherwise, why bother? why go half-baked? why not just dance the waltz, for heaven's sake.
The reason I bring this up is that another dancer, a woman in her early 20s, shrieked her disapproval when she saw that I was showing one of the male students how the hips move in the bachata. We were both facing the mirror, no body contact, and I had offered the analogy of the Tahitian dancer with the sharp hip up-bump.
I never feel like I have to defend myself and my teaching, but it does annoy me to have such infantile reactions. Later, the same woman objected when she was dipped "too low" by her partner because she didn't think it was refined (what with one leg curled around the guy's leg, a low dip would expose your undies unless you planned ahead and wore bloomers or booty shorts).
For someone who flits from beau to beau in the lifespan of a fly, she struck me as someone who "doth object too much."
If I want to let my inner sexy girl out via dance I will, because my lifestyle is blameless and I have no need for putting on virginal airs. Unfortunately, I will also have to put up with people with saintly pretensions as they barf their hang-ups in my face.
"I can't believe you gave him a nickel," I told Steve. "I gave him a nickel AND a quarter," Steve clarified, but he'd been too flustered to point it out to the man.
Who the heck gives a beggar such a paltry sum? But what nerve for the recipient to reject it. Doesn't he know it's not a beggar's market?
The church of St. Peter and Paul was a few blocks away. We entered and took in the grandeur of the interiors. Stained glass, balusters, columns, carved wood confessional booths, the works.
"There's something comforting about old churches built in the grand style," I whispered.
"Yes, this one reminds of me Las Vegas," Steve said.
By golly, he may be right. Doesn't one of the hotels recreate a baroque outdoor scene indoors, with convincing clouds on the ceiling and a thunderstorm?
"The clink of change dropping into the candle box sounds like the slot machines," he added.
Suddenly a short Chinese woman thrust a $5 bill at me. "Do you have change?" she asked softly. Turns out she wanted to light a candle, and the sign asked for $3. I thought, goodness, if you want a prayer granted that badly, just drop your $5 in and say, "Keep the change." Same thing Steve kept trying to persuade the beggar. Out loud, I apologized for not having change.
Buying our return ticket on the train, Steve was approached by an older man accompanied by his daughter. They were from Baltimore -- "Baltimore, Maryland" he specified, as if I might not know where it was. "Welcome to California!" I said, and they ignored me. We showed them how to make sense of the route map and the fare chart. Steve kept telling him he could just drop $20 and get two tickets, and the change would remain on the tickets for their next time on BART. But I could tell he didn't want to spend more than he had to, so I asked, "You'll likely be getting on BART again, won't you?" "Never," he said. Poor things. They didn't seem like they had a good time in California thus far. They just wanted to keep the change.
Steve is just getting so forgetful. I awoke the other morning to his mystified observation, "Someone's been using my toothpaste." He had found it next to my toothbrush cup rather than at his own sink. So I roused myself enough to remind him that when mine had run out, I had asked him to get a brand that we both would like — no cinnamon-flavored toothpaste this time, please. He'd presented me with a tooth-whitening, breath-freshening purchase, and I'd given it my Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
But we are so used to having separate toothpaste tubes, separate milk cartons (I drink soy, not cow's), and separate paychecks that this whole conjugal property concept has thrown him.
Someone's been eating my porridge. My life as Goldilocks, if she'd married one of the three bears.
Another morning he asked me where the umbrellas were, so rather than explain how to find one, I got up and hung one from the front doorknob while he got ready. After much hugging goodbye, he left...the umbrella. He called me at noon and I fussed. "You'll catch your death of cold," I said. Nothing like granny-generation isms to bridge the age gap between us. To humor me, he said, "Yes, I might die."
The good thing is, he hasn't given up on supposedly learning Mandarin from a set of CDs borrowed from the library. He listens during his commute, then comes home muttering monosyllabic, guttural sounds, assigning meaning to each: "meme means daughter, wa means I..." I suggested he email my Mom in Mandarin and his eyes widened. "Will I have to use Chinese characters?" he said.
When I shared with her my progress toward opening a handmade clothing and photography shop on etsy.com later this year, she cautioned that no one in the family ever succeeded in business. Well, I pointed out, no one else in the family ever became a journalist or speechwriter. Or married an American and made a life here, for that matter. Except for me. Perhaps I should've been a flight attendant like my sister, or a fighter pilot like my brother, or an Air Force colonel like my father, since those are the roads well taken.
Does your mother ever cluck-cluck you to distraction?
"I’ve never heard of anyone who worked a boring job, came home to a boring family, watched three hours of boring television, and then proceeded to write something of spellbinding greatness. It just doesn’t happen. Here’s why: your writing is an extension of who you are.
If your life is a soul-sucking heap of mediocrity, then your writing will be a soul-sucking heap of mediocrity. Similarly, if your life is an adventure that brings you such joy you want to weep, then that joy will seep into your words, and anyone who reads them will begin to smile."
I actually got so relaxed that I conked on the couch for about a half hour when Steve awoke from his nap, and he seamlessly took over babysitting. Next thing I know, he was telling Sharon on the phone, "Yup, Oma (that's me, Dutch for Grandma) got worn out. I gave William some tea in his sippy cup." Oh, ooops! I bolted up and checked the cup. Sure enough, bottled tea instead of the water I'd put in there earlier. I guess Steve was having some tea and William had gotten curious. Grandpa doesn't have much experience with babies, not even his own, can you tell?
The spell broke the minute Sharon came back: a screaming, kicking William objected to being "abandoned" by her when she went to the bathroom. He got himself all worked up until he threw up on her. Steve expressed so much dismay over the Jekyll-and-Hide performance that Sharon felt embarrassed and tense. I kept reassuring both that it's normal for a wee one to save up his vehement best for the mommy, to punish her for leaving him. And that he had, after all, skipped a nap and was due for his dinner. He settled down quickly once we sat down to eat. After dinner, we went out on the shady deck and unleashed a bubble barrage on him. We so look forward to another chance to have him with us.