Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Say what? The malady of malarky

There's always more than one way to view a situation. Take this photo. It could be saying any number of things to you, including:

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.
Hocus pocus.
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

How did you choose to make your mark today?

Nerve endings, originally uploaded by scrollwork.
You can make your mark on the world with the sizzling, searing force that brands cattle. If you crave dominion over people with a herd mentality, that might work for you.

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

Looking in windows

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

How to stop hoarding and start green stockpiling

One recovering shopaholic makes peace with the new minimalism

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.

“Shopping is right next to happiness on the spectrum of emotions, I guess…”

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

Pina colada slipdress

Am I done? Is this too much?

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

My hero

Pensive, originally uploaded by scrollwork.
Salmon-flavored cream cheese, licked from a spoon. Oceanfish paté-style canned food. The overgrown corner of the garden that serves as both a lookout spot and Fort Kitty. These are a few of his favorite things.

"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.