Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pockets - Flash fiction inspired by the art of Naomi Okubo

Anything reflected by a still pond spoke to Thea of Narcissus.  Unless a tree grew very near the bank, something rooted and unmoving to which she could cling, she didn't trust herself to lean over and see what the water might show.

Thea added pockets to any garments manufactured without them.  Of course one needed the means to store and transport essentials, though she also loved choosing a wildly disparate print from which to make pockets for the existing pants, skirt, jacket or dress.  She grew uneasy in solid colors, as though she had lost the power of movement.  A wall.  She felt like a wall in solid colors, especially shades of blue.  Once at a party, forbidden to wear anything her mother found embarrassing, Thea grew clammy with fear of being absorbed into the living room's plastered wall.  The cup of punch accidentally tipped onto her white shirtwaist saved her.  That was long ago.

What some, her late mother included, saw as eccentric or worse, the unmatched prints and textures, oddly out-of-place patches all helter-skelter on a once-normal tunic, did not brand Thea as peculiar.  Foible grew into fashion.  Thea-style became a thing, a look which drew aspiring yet unsuccessful copycats out from beneath cellar stairs.  Such an intuitive flair would not be matched.

Bringing her widely swinging focus down to the point of a pen, Thea drew rococo flowered borders resembling bas relief around the edges of her business cards, then used the hand-illustrated cardboard rectangles as price tags.  She only sold her fashion at garage sales and let word-of-mouth be her advertising.  A line of customers, jittery with anticipation, stretched up the block hours before she was due to open.  Made unhappy by the need to do so, she nevertheless imposed a two-item maximum on purchases, knowing that anything else would mean the first five customers got everything.  It was impossible to make the process any more fair.  Thea grew to dislike the first people in line, not a rational response necessarily, but an honest one.  The day arrived when she could no longer bear the stress of it and stopped holding the sales.  What she needed was a middle man, preferably a retired circus barker with no qualms about anything who would figure it out.  She'd rather be performing on the trapeze than see the disappointed faces of those who left empty-handed.

Harem pants in pin-striped linen, satin cropped pants, drawstring-waist pajama bottoms that could be rolled up to any length, all were sewn with pockets so deep one could scarcely reach all the way in with outstretched fingers.  Smoking jackets with velvet lapels, kimono tops made with five different floral patterns, mandarin collars and frog fastenings, unmatched vintage buttons from neck to hem of a dotted navy blue rayon dress with sprigged red piping, Thea's garments would stop people on the street.  She marveled at the ability of manufacturers to produce endlessly unattractive clothes when it was not much harder, or not harder at all, to offer something that flattered and gave rise to mirth.  Her tender heart kept an exclusive chamber reserved for women of more than average size, whom, it seemed, designers would rather torture with muddy colors, ridiculous and unnecessary belts or attached scarves and fabrics that could guarantee to make you sweat.   Really, Thea thought, there ought to be laws.

Over time and with the help of Buddhist friends, Thea grew to know that her work, her only task, was to pour all her genius into the clothes, not to fret over anything other than bringing them into being.  She stopped taking on the pressure of how they would be sold, who would get to buy them, would they go to the right  homes, would everything be fair.  The bare spots on her scalp began to grow hair, her eyes lost their haunted, faraway stare, she no longer fainted without an obvious reason, she fell in love with her lawyer.  Her clothes grew more wonderful over the years and nothing ever went out of style.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Word of the Week - 47

Once it was all about petticoats.
Word of the Week:  HARKEN

Usually what we love has been what we loved since childhood, or nearly.  Pinterest allows me to harken back to fashion inspiration from the 1950s, particularly anything involving net or tulle.  Once we wore petticoats.

My influence is not just from, as they were sometimes called, crinolines, but also a lavender ballet dress my mother made for a recital.  Being one of the older and taller students at the Metcalf School of Ballet and Tap, my gown was "ballet" length, defined as mid-calf or just above the ankle.  I have no idea how many layers went into the skirt, only that they were multiple.  It floated, twirled and seemed the epitome of grace.  In contrast, petticoats had to be starched regularly.  Without starching they wouldn't have pouffed our skirts out to there but instead just hung inert from their elastic waists making us look bulky instead of cute. Cute was the bull's eye at which we all, boys and girls, aimed.

Until they went out of fashion, perhaps around 1960, I used to starch my petticoats in a galvanized wash tub on the driveway.  Once starched, each had to be dried, usually clipped to a skirt or pants hanger, suspended from something in the garage.  When dry, they could stand on their own.  I believe my usual number of them was three.  Eventually they grew too old to hold a starching so they either had to be replaced or added to.  I bought them with my allowance at the W. T. Grant dime store in downtown Pasadena.  They had the best prices.
Now we get to wear our lingerie on the outside.
Pinterest enlightened me about tulle skirts as appropriate outerwear.  The fact that I haven't yet joined this trend doesn't mean I won't.  With encouragement from ADVANCED STYLE, we women of a certain age find it possible to consider fashion choices to which, at times not so long past, no harkening would have been allowed.
That the skirts are often shown topped by what could have been the height of bad-girl style in the late 50s, a cardigan sweater buttoned up the back (!), makes it feel like deja vu, as though I'd left the house without a real skirt over the petticoats.
Those things which please or entice us most seem to be etched onto our hearts.  Anything from playing with puppets to keeping track of things in pocket-sized notebooks or hyperventilating over frothy yard goods gives us dimension, authenticity, and honors early passions.  It is not nostalgia, it is consistency.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Holding and being our memories" - blog repost

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

That was then and this is then

Me, about age 4, at our Baldwin Park home.
Marty used to scream over the back fence, "Damn it, Bab'r, has you got a cookie?" Bab'r was Barbara, my mother. Marty was three years old. My mother had an aversion to country music and anything she thought trashy.

Once we'd moved away, we heard that Marty, by that time a scofflaw of five or so, had climbed into his father's gasoline tanker truck, released the hand brake and collided with the dairy at the end of the street. The good news, no explosion or great bodily harm to himself. The not as good news, there was nothing in the story to reassure the neighbors that whatever came next would not be worse.

At our new house, the one I lived in until leaving home at 18, my closest friend had two brothers, considerably older than we were, one of whom got into a scuffle at the local Bob's Big Boy Drive-in and ended up grabbing a deputy's gun out of his holster. No one was shot but what a lot of gossip at school and on the block. The same brother was later in a nearly-fatal motorcycle crash and used to scream at me about how he was almost "...pushing up daisies." I was glad not to have an angry, outlaw sort of brother, yet the time came when that was exactly the kind of man to whom I was doomed to be attracted. I am grateful to report surviving and recovering from that affliction.

Recently seeking a long-time chum, I visited the website dedicated to our high school graduating class. Our 50th reunion will be held next year. The looking resulted in an exchange of e-mails with one of the organizers whom I've known since grade school. He had information about students and staff from Longfellow Elementary. It was a pleasure to remember with him our town, our friends, the streets they used to live on...the first girl he kissed, a dog that bit me, when we discovered rock and roll. In the give-and-take of those memories, I felt my external self to be home to all the younger versions of me whom I could see clearly going about their six-year-old, eight-year-old, ten-year-old lives. I could feel in the center of my chest a connection to those not-vanished, nested like Russian dolls, variously-sized girls that I had been and, somehow, still was.

What to make of it, I'm not sure. For now it is enough to sit with the knowledge as I try and gain a wider perspective. It feels significant, the awareness of both holding and being our memories. There is an element, like a sacred trust, the grace of which allows us to act as both curators and exhibits in the museum of self.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Word of the Week - 46

Krista Larson catalog.
Word of the Week:  EXTERIOR

The process of maturing, evolving (one hopes), becoming, is interior.  There have been moments of craving a muffler-length flowered cotton scarf, rose patterned socks or a red lipstick but mostly it has been about shedding outworn beliefs, acknowledging that nothing is guaranteed and adapting to the world as it is.

Comes a time, though, when redecorating one's exterior begins to appeal, almost to the point of obsession.  Thanks (I believe that would be the accurate word) to Pinterest, I have found what I want to be my style in these advancing years.  The means to make that possible have not yet appeared.  I am not discouraged.

As with so many aspects of human life, I feel a time machine would be a useful device to (a) return to the easier availability of luxury fabrics close to home and (b) obtain them at their 1970s, if not earlier, prices.  Once you've seen an outfit in silk, anything that is not silk seems a poor second choice.  This all sounds, I realize, embarrassingly trivial, especially when positioned next to aspects of reality that keep us all awake at night.  That alone is reason enough to spend fantasy time imagining one's self as stunning for no reason or occasion.  The world will not set itself aright because I stop mooning over clothes I wish I'd seen 40 years ago.  I used to sew reasonably well.  I might be able to do it again.

The point of this is to be a bit silly.  In the first place, we like what we like, we love what we love and it is unkind to the point of sadism to curtail harmless daydreaming.  Just as with actual children, we know better than to yank our interior child selves by the arm, scowl and drag us out of the store, ashamed, yet not understanding why.  It has become part of my manifesto, the belief that beauty as we identify it feeds our hearts and souls.

Beauty makes us strong, even though we can grow weak at the knees in its presence.  Shame and a sense of lack deplete us, tarnish what glows from within and without.  To link arms with beauty does not require possessing its coveted manifestations.  Sometimes to imagine is enough. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It is not the wrong road. Repost from 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Q and A

Illustration by Edward Gorey.
Deepak Chopra was waiting for me to finish with my email yesterday. AOL sent him to tell me that I am not my DNA. Looking into my eyes, he said that I need to ask the big questions, that I need to live the questions. I am not fully certain that we have very much other than questions.

The Real Work by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Yesterday, today, are not different than the days around them. The questions are not bigger or more plentiful. It is just that they are constant, though for many no answer is required.

These are not false starts, these first steps along what proves to the unanticipated path. It is not the wrong road. The explorers traveled this way, celestial guidance and maps of questionable accuracy. I believe this: I will arrive where I need to be.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

We talked of Raymond Chandler

Writer Raymond Chandler.
In at least one earlier post I shared Margaret Atwood's poem, "In Love With Raymond Chandler" and I plan to share it again.  The mystery writer's name has come up in conversations over the past two weeks enough times that it seems to be telling me something.

The first mention was from my son about a highly literate friend who had just read "The Big Sleep" for the first time and wanted to find some worm hole that would deliver her to another era in which she could steal Chandler's yet-unpublished manuscripts.  The second exploration was with a long-time friend, also a Los Angeles native, about an earlier Los Angeles and Chandler, the lasting influence both have on our sensibilities, perhaps on our characters, and the no-longer mysterious way both have crept into most conversations we've ever had.

Yes, Chandler's fiction is mostly classified as pulp and genre-specific, which doesn't make it true.  My friend and I, both born near the end of the second World War, grew and evolved along with the city.  We each were related to the sort of crooked cops we've seen in "L.A. Confidential."  Our sentences collide and we start to hyper-ventilate over signature architecture like bungalow courts or Bunker Hill mansions converted to rooming houses.  They are familiar locations in film and fiction from writers such as Chandler, John Fante and Robert Towne.

Since this is where I was born, grew up and have spent most of my life, the first generation in my family to be an LA native, I don't know if other places have exerted a similar steely grip on the hearts of their children.  Do other regional writers hold citizens under comparable spells?  In spite of all that has been razed or replaced since Chandler painted Los Angeles with his, I believe, elegant hand, for some of us those sites, those years, will never be truly gone.  I don't expect the unindoctrinated ever to notice the sleight-of-hand at work along Hollywood Boulevard, how present the past is when one rides an elevator to the floor where Philip Marlowe had his office.  As with other extraordinary sights, one can't unsee the city as it used to be, always hoping for that Brigadoon moment along a street in Hollywood or Chinatown, hearing the traffic slow and thin, watching the skyline lower, while men in hats and women in dresses begin to populate the sidewalk.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Word of the Week - 45

Word(s) of the Week:  il a plu - it rained

Saturday's not entirely expected day-long showers made working on two illustrated envelopes that much more jolly.  I cannot think when last my deadline converged with conditions that matched what I used to count on from January and February.  These were commissioned birthday envelopes, drawing and pencil coloring.  When I was finished and had time to think about it, the day reminded me of making or addressing valentines.  Shiny red heart stickers from Mrs. Grossman or cut-out-and-paste envelopes from a book of punch-out cards for classmates, manipulated under light from the dining room chandelier, that's perfect work for a drizzling Saturday.
I chose French for the words this week, for it is now Sunday and news stories say more than 3,000,000 have gathered in Paris for a unity march.  And Gene Kelly is equal parts "An American in Paris" and "Singing In the Rain."  Further convergence. 

It is still raining, in spurts and waves, as Sunday noon approaches.  The envelopes have been delivered, an assignment completed.  Peace and contentment are not distant dreams, they are readily, easily, at hand.  All that is asked of us is to remain open to new definitions of what is enough.

Friday, January 9, 2015

I would ask the wizard for willingness

Willing feels like a word for grown-ups, the real ones, who do not expect things always to fall within one's comfort zone.  I am not sure I qualify.

A willingness for what is physically painful, what may not pay the desired dividend regardless of effort, is not my greatest virtue.  One of the sayings from 12-step programs is, "The only way out is through."  I know this to be true.  To be stronger, to be more safe and mobile, more independent, feels like a possibility.  It calls to me constantly.  My heart longs for those enhanced attributes beyond any other wish.  No one else can make it happen.  Medicare has provided all the physical therapy it deems appropriate or beneficial.  I know more is possible, yet have shilly-shallied, let time pass and lost ground I had gained.

Courage and trust.  If they were easily summoned, everyone would posses them.   I must assume some aspect of the universe believes I am capable of this or the dream would not exist.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Paper, the moon and other radiant spots of happiness

Sandy Mastroni's Moon with a knowing look in its eye.
Paperways large notebook, French grid pages.
Gifts of Christmas, plentiful and wonder-packed, include Sandy Mastroni's stuffed and painted moon with noodle arms and the Paperways large notebook with French grid pages.  The photo above doesn't quite do justice to the cover color, which is more a celery shade than lime.  While I wasn't paying attention during the past two years, I became a fool for grid-ruled pages - in notebooks, Project Life cards, index cards, Post-It notes.  While mine is not a name generally thought of when talking about "order," grid-lined pages appeal to something within that has been shouted down.  For two weeks in the 1960s I worked for a bookkeeping firm, writing cramped yet tidy numbers in bulky, confusing books.  We parted with good will after two weeks.  I became a journalist.

We notebook fetishists, for that is who we are, not simply appreciators, too passive a title, really do lust after any bound collection of pages in which we can sketch, doodle, jot, muse, record or write.  We can discuss pens and mechanical pencils another day.

Yesterday also brought reasons for gratitude, the first being an ability in my better moments to be in love with what may seem under-valued treasures.  In no particular order from January 6, they are:

*A bag of pears from Trader Joe's that smelled the ways pears ought to smell but rarely do.  Heavenly.

*The sample dabbing of "Femme" Parfum de Toilette from Surrender to Chance which could still be detected more than 24-hours after application.  I have not found that to be true of any other fragrances for many, um, moons.  What they say of it at the site:
Rochas Femme was created at the height of The Depression by Edmond Roudnitska, at the request of Marcel Rochas, and it was to be a gift for Rochas' wife. The story has it that Roudnitska created Femme while while pondering a rubbish dump and a paint factory.  Olivier Cresp reformulated Rochas Femme in 1989, and there are two distinct versions, the post-1989 version bringing in the cumin note.  This scent is full-bodied, said to be inspired by Mae West, and it shows. There is nothing of a young girl or ingenuie in this scent. It's a perfume that's been around the block and now has the whole block following her like the cats following that little thief in "Love Potion No. 9."

Read more:
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*Being quoted in an interview with friend Claire Beynon amidst words from, among others, Claire, Pablo Neruda and Wendell Berry.  I swooned with delight.  Article is in "Down in Edin" on-line magazine, found here.

*The warmth and comfort of higher temperatures in Los Angeles, one degree short of the record 85 degrees.  On New Year's Day the noontime high was somewhere near 40, had been 33 at 8 a.m.  I do apologize to those with windchill factors that dip below zero.  Some of us are hothouse flowers.

*The joy of seasonal fruit, particularly how easy mandarin oranges and navel oranges are to peel.

*Taking a nap.

It was the scent of pears that caught me the most off-guard, such a delicate, distinctive sweetness, almost watery yet not vague.

We are meant, I swear, to fall in love with everything we possibly can.  If it could take form, I would dance with the way pears smell.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Word of the Week - 44

Essie Davis in the title role from "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries," available on Netflix.
Word(s) of the Week:  NANCY DREW

As a girl I often spent the days following Christmas or my birthday devouring the Nancy Drew books I received as gifts.  In those days the Pasadena Library System felt such pulp was beneath their dignity and did not carry Nancy or any other popular, and apparently trashy, series.  Ownership and trading was our only option.

Then last week Lisa Hoffman, an adventurous and reliable source for stuff I don't know about, mentioned the luminous Essie Davis, her "homegrown horror film, The Babadook," and the Australian tv series,  Miss Fisher Mysteries.  Netflix-available, we began watching with Season One, Episode One that night.  I enjoy the programs just as I did those blue-bound volumes so very many years ago. 

Set in the 1920s with lavish fashion, interiors and vehicles that let you know where you are without feeling like a documentary, each story took me back to the scenes of earlier crimes, as I had started reading Nancy before she was modernized.  My girl detective drove a roadster and appeared on the colorful dust jackets in sensible yet stylish garb of an era very close to the flapper age.  Miss Fisher is, of course, more mature and considerably less chaste than Miss Drew (my son's frame of reference was Veronica Mars) and all the more appealing for it.

Even though I've managed to find a low-key footpath through Christmas, I still experience a bit of let-down when the chocolate gobbling has to stop and it seems that one needs to resume some version of regular life.  Miss Fisher adds the right amount of fizz to an outlook grown a bit too flat.  It was also abnormally cold for Southern California this past week.   At least we in the San Gabriel Valley didn't have snow in our yards thought there was frost on the roofs.  Any tolerance I once had for cold has vanished (how lucky I live in Los Angeles and not Billings, Montana) and I find myself longing for summer which is still but a distant hope.  Without central heat, this is the land of many layers and of following the southern sunlight as though I were producing cholorophyll.

We have the return of "Downton Abbey" and "The Good Wife" to help see us through any January doldrums.  As they have been joined by the handsomely-crafted Australian mysteries we may, with the addition of rededicating several hours a day to writing and drawing, find a crumb-trail back to warmer days (my mind may be trying to hibernate) without a complete loss of zest.  Nancy Drew always was a favorite winter chum.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Repost from 2013 - "...where closed human understanding is pried open by fate"

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"where closed human understanding is pried open by fate"

Navajo storyteller doll.

Thomas Moore on stories from The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life:

"Themes are interventions of providence that make an opening through which life can be born again and again, and the many stories with their many themes keep us aware of the liminality of everyday experience, the threshold where the human and the divine converse, or where closed human understanding is pried open by fate.  It is at this very point of convergence that enchantment is born, for our stories grasp and contain the mystery of that wonder of divine incarnation that gives our lives purpose, meaning, and value beyond all personal, human capacity."

and this:

"We are all bundles of stories that are interlaced, embedded in each other, and connected to stories of greater scope.  One story, even an autobiographical one, only hints at other stories that could be told."


"The enchantment of a story lies in its capacity to take us away from the rules, expectations, physical laws and moral requirements of actual life, and that is why the best stories usually betray an influence of mythology, fairy tale, sacred parable, or some form of magic.  A good story is like a wand brushing against the mind, sending it into trance, teaching it lessons from another land, beyond East and West, or from a golden time before and outside this realm of fact and history." 


Laoch of Chicago said...
Marylinn Kelly said...
Laoch - Thank you, I'm a fan of Mr. Moore's insights and belief in our need for magic. Thank you for commenting, so nice to hear from you. I am a wretched - of late - correspondent. xo
Lisa H said...
This makes me want to re-ignite The Gypsy Bonfire!
Marylinn Kelly said...
Lisa - And what a good idea THAT is. I suspect we have felt an unknown longing for that sacred place of story sharing. There is so much to tell. xo