Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Among our souvenirs

Vintage Chinese button bag, or so we were told.
Painted or drawn face on stuffed fabric disc.
Early in the 1970s my sister and I visited an antique shop, the only one of its kind in LA's Chinatown.  There we each purchased a silk vintage doll-shaped drawstring pouch, described to us as button bags.  At a point in the past 15 years, my little treasure and I lost each other.  On Monday, my birthday, my sister sent me hers. 

We have wondered about, talked about, our palm-sized finds many times during the intervening 46 years.  We remembered the hush of the shop, what appeared to be museum-quality pieces in the display cases and on the floor, and the fact that, in such priceless splendor, we could purchase something that seemed equally rare.  We've never seen anything quite like the little bags, nor have I been able to think of a description that would bring up a matching image on Google.  Thus we have no real idea of the time in which the so-called button bags were made, but from the state of the silk, our guess would be perhaps the 1920s.  Were they popular, did all the girls have them?  Were they made for the American market?  They have the appearance of a gift item, but who could be sure.  While the top is faded, the underside still shows the original pink color, onto which an adhesive price sticker had been...stuck.  Its discoloration remains.  Who puts a sticker on silk, we've asked.

But beyond the details is that fact of restoration, one of my favorite themes.  That my sister decided that mine was the home where the one remaining treasure should stay touched me,  almost to the point of wordlessness.  We enjoyed such a long time of having the twins, making my thoughtless or unavoidable act of losing mine especially painful.  Last year my brother-in-law sent me a photo of the survivor, since I couldn't remember some of the smaller details.  I've thought of trying to make one - or some - at a point, even researching vintage silk on etsy.

If this seems much ado about, well, nothing, that may be so.  In the wider world, the bigger picture, what could this possibly matter?  Yet I know we take nourishment of the deepest kind from objects that please us, their value far less important than the moments of which they are souvenirs.  Things.  Talismans, mementos, shiny or not-shiny objects that catch our eyes, that speak to us.  I can easily become critical of myself as being materialistic, still I know our human connection to material things is not without meaning, nor is it entirely shallow.  If that were the case, there would be no curators, no professions in which the finding, preserving, cataloging and displaying of goods were revered.

To keep the button bag company on its trip across the continent, my sister selected an illustrated fabric disc with what I will call a moon face.  Its edge is studded with the heads of straight pins.  We assume it was a purely decorative object.  I am a great fan of moons.  I am also the devoted fan of a sister whose generous heart allowed her to part with the sole surviving find from a shared adventure.  Thank you, Laurie.  I will try to be a better steward this time.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Word of the Week - 101

 Word(s) of the Week: IN SPITE OF 
"Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart longs for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet. " ~Yeats
I experience periods of time during which I don't know much of anything.  Trying to keep one's mind a clear path seems an almost laughable goal.  Yet without the continual removal of debris with which we are bombarded, stuck becomes the only option.
So.  For the sake of peace and what might pass for sanity, I ignore the news as much as possible.   I refuse to engage in debate and carping.  I try not to develop spontaneous headaches over the nitpicky nettles of life such as outsourced tech support or customer service.  As best I can, I soldier on in spite of matters concerning health, finances and the frequently challenging business of living adaptively as an elderly creature, for there are always two sides to the ledger.

Kristin Vestgard's paintings show women as luminous beings in mist-filled surroundings that soften the harder edges of existence.  Harsh noises are muffled by fog, even the warning horn brings comfort.  It speaks of safe harbor, of being watched over.

Growing up during the days of air raid drills, images of atomic apocalypse always fresh, probably gave birth to the in-spite-of state of mind.  Just as I've decided not to worry about other cosmic bodies colliding with Earth or our Milky Way galaxy (Andromeda edges closer, but 4 billion years is by any measure a long time), I have the choice to surrender to reasonable fear over all that is unknown or to try and reach beyond that reality and catch hold of something different.
It seems I am responsible for the balance of my mind and the quiet of my spirit.  The in-spite-of option is not the same as being an ostrich.  I do know what's going on out there.   I don't choose to let it overtake what I also know to be true.  Like the once-popular song about walking on the sunny side of the street, "I used to walk in the shade with the blues on parade."   I'm still in the process of recovering from most of a lifetime of angst, a process almost as slow as the predicted Milky Way/Andromeda collision.  I write of this for a recent morning brought unquiet moments when I stepped away from my preferred modus operandi.  I felt the disturbance in every part of my body.
My antique dealer brother-in-law tells of an auctioneer he knew early on in his collecting career, a man who would offer an item for bid and describe it as being "...broke, but it ain't broke bad."  Ain't broke bad may be just good enough. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

"Sweet overtones of cocoa...subtle aftertaste of raisins"

The enticing words about a certain coffee blend in Trader Joe's recent flyer reminded me of days, some years actually, spent as an advertising and public relations copywriter for a small, shall we say limited market.  They reminded me of being hired to sell what were, at times, goods and services without unique aspects, sometimes almost without aspects of any sort.  A moving company whose only hook was that they wouldn't break your stuff, a pleasant enough seafood restaurant with lots of competition, an eating contest (!), radio spots for car dealers, plus a regional bank and a local dress shop that put on fashion shows.  Some of the copy I actually remember, a tiny portion of it won prizes from the area's advertising club, some I've lost altogether.

Mostly, what this train of thought brought up was how certain jobs help us find our muscle.  We grow stronger (or stranger) pushing against deadlines, occasionally turning nothing into something, digging and probing and prodding to unearth one bit of color or humor or drama around which to build a story, one that is mostly true.  We are strengthened by casting wildly about our stored language to find words that will elevate what is ordinary, regular, to something with a bit more shine.

We don't realize when we occupy them that these jobs are boot camp, from which we either wash out or get promoted.  Or choose to enter another line of work.  We don't know in 1975 that in 2016 we will look back and appreciate the impossible clients and interviews, passed along to us by a much more impossible boss as the last stop. This may have been the assignment that helped me believe everyone must possess sparkle, no matter how elusive.

It's all tap dancing.  Some of it requires a typewriter.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Word of the Week - 100

Vintage magic poster.
Word(s) of the Week:  SMALL MAGIC

I believe in magic.  Whether sleight of hand or sleight of mind, I believe we perform it.  It is part of the current that carries us through.  Unsung, perhaps never mentioned, the multiple acts of small magic with which we conjure on a daily, or more frequent basis serve to levitate us above, well, all that isn't magic.

No need to pretend that life does not deliver leaden moments, sleepless nights, hand-wringing and tears of oh-so-many descriptions.  It is small magic that rescues us from being wedged into those tight spots we thought inescapable.

My magic list includes (as I've mentioned so often) the color red, being surprised at my own explosive laughter, friends and family and love, each new day, sleep, encouraging words, good news, our Southern California version of stormy weather, really delicious coffee, getting warm when I'm cold, signs of intelligent life, the fact that people play music and write books and make movies, the experience of impossible things happening, all wonders created by man and nature, the ability to change my mind, dark chocolate (alas, in moderation), poetry (in unlimited quantities), kindness, beauty, making things with my hands.

There is no true magic too small to be counted.  The simple act of noticing, of knowing, makes us participants.  "Is THIS your card?"  Astonishment, admiration.  "Yes, that's my card."  How many moments in a day deliver impossible results no less remarkable.

And this, the power of words, the minds and souls to which we turn for incantations:

“She conceived of life as a road down which one traveled, an easy enough road through a broad country, and that one's destination was there from the very beginning, a measured distance away, standing in the ordinary light like some plain house where one went in and was greeted by respectable people and was shown to a room where everything one had ever lost or put aside was gathered together, waiting.”
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping   

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sitting here waiting for it to be February

Embroidered, beaded "love token" from World War I.  Thank you, DIY Fashion Sense for this and other heart projects generously shared at this blog.
A traditional Sailors' Valentine.
As I briefly ponder the notion of romantic love, hearts and cacti seem like dance partners.  Thus it makes sense that heart-shaped pincushions were popular souvenir items and intricate - spiny - shell assemblages were called Sailors' Valentines.  The course of true love and all that.

It is almost February.  Together with my often-mentioned fondness for red is an equally powerful preference for things shaped like hearts, both of which may be celebrated with abandon, at least until Feb. 14.  Even longer if we are procrastinators with good excuses.

If nostalgia were visible like fog or could make the eyes smart like a too-strong cologne, you would know when I was in the neighborhood.  I drift backward with almost no prompting.  Unlike some months, which for me could be March, May, and possibly August when I don't remember Big Things happening, February is filled with memories.  For the fortunate among us, birthday months are associated with celebration, with receiving welcome attention, with gifts.  Rain, school holidays and a world swathed in pink and red for a paper crafters' dream event conspire to make it the perfect little month.  This is just a shout-out to February, an old and dear friend.  Our adventures have been many.
Color version of Albertine Randall Wheelan's illustration, reproduced by Green Tiger Press.
Native American beadwork souvenir pincushion.  (no source)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Radio days

Available as MP3s from Amazon - CHANDU, THE MAGICIAN.
I belong to a Facebook group called, "You know you're from old school Pasadena when..."  So much of what I would still find entertaining, tasty and generally pleasing exists only in the past.

Among the uncountable blessings of technology is preservation.  I knew of Chandu, most likely through films based on the radio serials.  Though they, too, were produced during the 1930s it is not a stretch to imagine them turning up as television sought programming to fill its channels and airtime.  In the early 1970s, the radio show reappeared on Sunday afternoons on KPPC in Pasadena.  Exotic, foreign, mysterious, it returned me to childhood as it may or may not have been.  It all felt familiar.  What I know is the episodes were compelling enough to make me want to be home next to my radio at a time I would likely have been elsewhere.  My downstairs neighbors were also fans.  It was not the same, listening in a moving car.  One wished to pay attention.

When I was ill as a child, home from school, I got to have a radio in the room my younger sister and I shared and listened to programs that began with Don McNeill's Breakfast Club and ran through the early afternoon soaps, maybe One Man's Family and Ma Perkins.  I'm no longer sure.  I was not caught up in the daily drama of those shows as I was later in Chandu.  Had that been one of the daily programs, I might have become an elementary school drop-out.  But I couldn't find excitement in those midday shows and gladly returned to school.  Regardless of what was playing, the radio was company during a pox or flu or some unwelcome thing.

We are so very much the products of our histories, of our longings for what we knew, what we loved.  I am not surprised that my fiction writing takes the form of episodes or chapters.   I like that many of the tv shows I watch now have story lines, often mysteries, that run through an entire season rather than being quickly resolved in single, free-standing episodes.  I think it is smart programming to have the audience feel invested in the outcome.  Oscar Wilde told us, "The suspense is terrible.  I hope it will last."  In my case, it seems to be lasting a lifetime.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Olga Zharkova and the thoughtful bears

Nothing ordinary about these handmade bears by Russian artist Olga Zharkova.
The fear of being ordinary,  of speaking, writing, in cliches.  It can be paralyzing.

On a post this morning by a Welsh illustrator-writer, I read a brief discussion about not writing like a fridge magnet,  based on a quote from the book, "Grief Is A Thing With Feathers."  I gather from the one page shared, from the context I found by reading a few reviews, that the character Crow may have been (I am only guessing) exaggerating, perhaps to make someone laugh.  In me it added to occasional wonderings about the nearness of fridgemagnetisms.

When I saw Olga Zharkova's wise old bears, above,  I heard how they spoke to each other, heard their observations about life as it flowed around them.  Aging if not elderly gentlemen who find comfort when their pants are loosened, shirts a bit rumpled, fur matted in spots, bristly in others, their language is sometimes wry, always direct, reflective, honest.  They've seen a lot, they may have seen it all, and are not done yet.  They speak like my midwestern grandfathers, one saying a familiar grace over every meal, one explaining over his shoulder some aspect of crop raising as he hoes open an irrigation channel.

I would cast these bears in any story I might imagine.  One could be an English bear with Alan Rickman's voice.  His friend could be a poet, exiled from the land of his birth, melancholy clinging to him no matter how roaring his laughter.  He would sweeten his black tea with berry jam.  In common with my grandfathers, neither chatters nor speaks idly.  Their words emerge from thought, everything is considered.  I hope the same may be true for me