Posts filed in: September 2006

One Year

comments: 127

SilhouetteThis is a silhouette of me, at 20 months old, made by my mother — very coincidentally — on September 30, 1970, thirty-six years ago today. My mom, who was then ten years younger than I am now, wrote the date on the back of the board and her handwriting is exactly the same as it is now. I'm not even sure how she made this — did she actually trace my shadow? It is life-size. When I look at the profile, I think, "That's me. I was like that. I was there." Of course, the only memory I have from that apartment is a little china duck on a shelf, and the sun coming through the window above my crib. I don't have pictures of either the shelf or the room; I should ask my mom if either really existed, or if it's just what I think there was. It seems like a real memory, but who can say.

What I really want to ask her is if there was anything about me then that signified a future me, me at 37. Would she even remember? It was so long ago. My father always pointed to two wrinkles that appeared at my inner elbow every time I bent my right arm, and the one uncomplicated wrinkle made by my left. He said I had all three at birth, this funny asymmetry. I blushed whenever he would mention it, and would immediately straighten all appendages in embarrassment, but still, it was amazing: Someone knew something about me that I didn't know! This small, strange thing, almost nothing! Almost everything I thought about myself seemed invisible to others. What other surprises might I yield, things unknown to even me? Was my portrait so readily available, and I was the one who couldn't see?

It's my blogiversary today. The Typepad spell-checker doesn't know how to spell that. Might it, this time next year? Probably. I do and don't look forward to that. I like thinking that we blog writers and readers are a secret society. Will blogs be special when "blogiversary" doesn't get red-lighted, when blogs are as common as microwave ovens? When we got our first one, in the '80s, our parents told us to press start and then stand far back from the oven door, halfway across the room. There was no telling what would come out of the things. It turns out they're sort of taken for granted, slightly maligned these days, but they still bake a potato in four minutes. I always think about how excited we were with that first one, and feel a little twinge of melancholy over our sweet naivete, those glossy and surprising new things that we quickly take for granted though they are no less enchanted for being familiar, really. Even now, I press the "start" button on my 'wave and feel a little flutter in my chest, as if I should run.

I've changed. All my life I've felt a little separate, a little bit apart, with my alien blood and my prissy ways, riding my imaginary horse down the middle of the sidewalk; but I'd stomp my feet in frustration when I wasn't understood. If someone would say, as they sometimes did, "I had no idea you felt that way," I'd fly into fit of hysterics, more radical than ever seemed warranted or expected, blotchy with tears and accusations. "Nobody listens to me!" I'd shriek, alone, into my pillow, then smooth it — I'd embroidered it, after all; no point ruining the stupid thing. I'd always planned to leave, take my pillowcase and find my places, was sure that I could, though it always has taken me a long time to get to them, as it takes us sloths. Sometimes I'll walk through the living room now, and I'll see Andy in his brown chair, hunched over the laptop. He'll smile, laugh, scan the screen, smile again. "What are you reading?" I say. And he says, "The blog." He reads every post and every comment. Each comment is a wave — Hi, friend! — a wink, a hug, a giggle, a shrug, a squawk, a total miss, a tiny kiss, a hand held out, steadying an elbow. Insert sob here. Look at all the listeners, he says. Blotchy, I look up from the pillow/keyboard and see you, right there, yours hands cupped toward me around your ears. How you got here is a mystery to me, but don't leave.

Often he goes back to read the posts again, weeks, months later. It's all a love letter to him, and our life, the one we got to have, after all. I've never told him that, but he knows. He gets it. He's heard me, seen me, all along.

Frenchified and Forever 21 (if Only on the Inside)

comments: 54

Forever216 I took the whole day off. My friend got back from France less than a week ago and I was lucky enough to have her all to myself for a few hours yesterday, for shopping and lunch. (We said to our waiter, simultaneously and inappropriately, "Hi handsome!" and "Hey, good looking!" followed by "Wow." I'll say she said the "wow." He looked like he just stepped off the runway, or the pro-football field (as in quarterback, not defensive end). We were flirting in the French way (actually I would assume the French are far more subtle and sophisticated, but I'll tell you, even our dork-attempts worked, because we got excellent service), just for the Frenchified fun of it.

Forever217 She was wearing a little black top with tiny polka-dots on it and a cute neck-bow thing and it was totally clear that it was from France. It was adorable. Unfortunately, my behavior was not, and it was a typical American Alicia Paulson–ish conversation, resulting in the following appalling content-analysis: 50% Alicia talking about her five-minute trip to France fifteen years ago; 10% Shelly talking about her two-week trip to France FROM WHICH SHE RETURNED FIVE DAYS AGO; 40% Alicia falling off her chair and into her lunch trying to apologize for monopolizing the conversation with talk about herself, totally missing the irony that she is actually taking up even more time talking about herself. It wasn't that bad, but close.

Forever212Presents, as always, assuaged my blues. She brought me French buttons, postcards, a fleur-de-lis patch, and a little antique wire cage — a child's "cricket keeper." We went to Powell's and got my drawing books, then hit Anthropologie and coveted many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many things there. I'm sorry, but we did. Late last night while lying in bed in the dark I couldn't stop thinking about how much I love clothes. I stared up towards the ceiling and said to Andy, "Do you ever, like, just sit and think about clothes, about maybe what you'll wear or what you want to wear?"

He: "Um, no."
Me: "Never?" (Mind you, we have had this conversation about four hundred times so this is really just some kind of exercise in I don't know what — me maneuvering an opportunity to talk about myself again, I think.)
He: "No. I mean, I do think about them when I'm dressed inappropriately."
Me: "Oh, I love clothes so much!!! I love them! Sometimes I just think about them all the time!!!"
He: "Man, we learned so much about geology at school! The entire fossil record . . . paleozoic . . . [etc., I actually have no idea what he was saying.]
Me: "I mean, how do they make all these clothes? Where are they coming from? Who's designing this stuff? It's so cute! It's so cute. Ohmigosh, there was this jacket, with an empire waist, and these big buttons and little pleats, and, seriously, it was adorable hun, and . . . "
He: "ZZZZzzzzzzzz."
Me: "Darn."

Forever214After Shelly dropped me off at home, I couldn't sit still. I went back out to the regular mall to see what was happening there. Not much. Except for at Forever 21. I don't know where I've been, but HAVE YOU BEEN HERE? Good grief. Can I just say that all of these pictures are from Forever 21, and everything is between $18 and $34? That dress, above, is less than $23. This store had more clothes than any store I've ever been in in my life. There were clothes stuffed onto racks, falling off shelves, so many clothes you just wouldn't believe it. (At least at Clackamas Town Center.)

Forever213I don't know a thing about this place, and I am clearly nowhere near 21, I can't stand it when clothes are on the floor, I try not to shop at these big chains, but I couldn't get out. I could not get out. I was sucked into the vortex. The music was great. It was like a museum of cuteness. Everywhere I turned I was assaulted with something cute. Look at this little jacket. Please. Hello Mia Farrow. How cute would you be sipping cafe au lait in that!

The stuff is small, and they have an insane return policy — can't return, only exchange or get store credit, and you have a small window of opportunity to do so. But I got two shirts and let's just say I am feeling much, much better about fall.

Forgot to say: If you want to pee in your pants laughing listen to David Sedaris talk about Paris on This American Life from July 28, 2000 (episode 165). I listen to this every couple of years when I remember to and it is one of my favorite ones, especially the part where he sees Judge Judy. . . .

Some Days

comments: 29

Cabbage1I have a guilty pleasure. I often go to Chinese restaurants at two o'clock in the afternoon and eat lunch alone in the middle of the week. I realize how indulgent this sounds; I'm always sheepish in the parking lot, in case I am spotted, by anyone. It's one of those things maybe only the self-employed and childless get to do regularly. There is often no one else in the place; the private, genial conversations of the employees swirl around me in Chinese at high volume, but I can barely hear them, not understanding, as I don't, a single word. It's white noise, reassuring and off-silent, not-quite-but-almost silent. I guess it's actually like off-white noise. Two p.m. is their slow time; often they are sitting at a table just one over from me, eating their own lunches. What are they having? It's probably what I should order, but I'm always the same: barbecued-pork fried rice. I stay a long time, and become invisible myself, which is nice. Eating lunch alone with a book is one of my favorite things.

Cabbage2I went yesterday, on my way to the P.O. I thought about the summer and felt really sad, actually. I miss the beach. I miss when the plants were babies, tender and green instead of frowsy, old and scarred. I miss those extra two minutes on the sides of each day. I miss our dinners under the lantern. Thank you to everyone for your calendar suggestions. I'm so calendar-dumb it didn't occur to me that it's actually one of the best times of the year to get a calendar. Doi.

Cabbage3There's beauty in it all, of course, blah blah, but it doesn't matter. I feel the sadness anyway, inevitably, every year; it seeps in through my faulty seals and I let it, as you must. Andy has patients he can't talk about this week, they're too sad. One man can't talk himself, is frustrated and confused, but calls Andy over throughout the day to hug him. That makes me cry. One, in her 80s, asked him to pick up the Interview with the Vampire DVD, which he did on his way home last night. She has a picture of a man — her late husband? — propped on her tray all day. She just sold her house with everything in it.

Cabbage6Today I'm going to the bookstore to get a drawing book, an Ed Emberley–type, turn-your-thumbprint-into-an-elephant-head, a tea pot. My niece probably has what I'm really looking for. She made me a little horse out of clay over the weekend, in the hours she had at home before coming for her sleepover; she was excited about it and needed something to do. As with all of her critters, Muzette (as I named her) is imbued with a gentle, slightly amused curiosity; she does it with the eyes, the posture. The mare's lying down, with all legs tucked under, relaxed. I wouldn't think, if I lived a hundred million years, to sculpt a horse at rest. But this girl is a natural.

Cabbage5Last night we watched Sydney Pollack's biography of architect Frank Gehry on OPB. I rewound and re-listened to the part where Pollack says something like, "I think all talent is actually liquid trouble. It's frustration with the world as it is, and an attempt to make something else out of it." I also thought it was so interesting when Gehry told how at sixteen he went to a lecture by an old guy with white hair. The guy talked about the stuff he was doing in a way that was appealing to Gehry; he tucked the ideas down deep and did some other stuff with his life. Years later, after he'd become an architect, he could see that his work was very much inspired by Alvar Aalto. He went back and looked up who'd given that lecture, back in 1946. Of course it had been Aalto.

More Blue, and Red Herrings

comments: 44

Nookshelf3A calendar would help me. I don't have a Blackberry, or a Dayrunner, or even a calendar that does anything other than hang on its little hook in the kitchen cabinet; when someone calls and says they are coming to town, we write it down, so we make it to the airport on time. I don't wear a watch, so I only vaguely ever know what time it is, though I am rarely and hate being late. I don't have a cell phone, so I keep my friends' phone numbers memorized, and routinely dial my mom's number when I mean to call my sis, and vice versa. All this usually works for me. But not lately. Lately, dates and times and things that need to happen by and on and at each are slipping through the cracks. It's possible that I need a little calendar. But where to find one in late September? And would I really even write things down beyond today, this frantic impulse, having had many a calendar in the past and throwing them away, unused, sometime in January when the new year's one comes along, oblivious to its pending irrelevancy?

Nookshelf2_1I got a new shelf in our bedroom a few weeks ago. This isn't it; both of these are old. The new one was in deep shadow this morning — it's a north-facing room. Just saying this reminds me of all the red herrings that keep cropping up in my life and making me laugh lately. Someone in my studio last week noticed a dollar bill on my bulletin board and said, "Oh, is that the first $1 you made with Posie?" And I said, "Oh, actually no, it's just a dollar bill that was lying on the floor while I was vacuuming and I didn't want to suck it up." Then at the photo shoot last week, the photographer's name was Laurie and the stylist's name was Barbara, and I kept calling Barbara "Laurie," but not because I was confusing her with the photographer; I was confusing her with someone else I knew a long time ago who looked just like her and whose name was Laurie. I know there were a few others, but I've told this before recently so these are the ones I remember, from that telling.

Nookshelf1This little dress is vintage, and homemade. Impeccably made. Her finishing details are gorgeous. Thrifting has replaced going to the fabric store and puttering for me. I found this at an estate sale a couple of months ago. I have other clothes made by this same lady at my antique booth, but I'm keeping this little frock. I couldn't resist, with the balloons and all. Speaking of dresses, did anyone catch Lauren Graham in her Duro dress on the Ellen Degeneres Show yesterday? I love her. Both of them, actually, but I really love Lauren Graham. She is such a spaz on talk shows, especially on Ellen where she seems to actually out-do even Ellen with that affected, stuttery "where am I?" sort of thing, but I always crack up anyway. When she said, "I love Matthew Perry," I about fell off the sofa. Why are Lauren Graham and Matthew Perry not married??? That would be brilliant. Yesterday was all about the Gilmore Girls. When Luke just walked away and got in the truck at the end I almost sobbed. I had to turn the TV off and sit in silence. It's very upsetting.

Nookshelf4I finally found a bit of time yesterday afternoon to catch up on blogs a little and saw Michelle's amazing crocheted blanket, which was inspired by this one over at Jane's, and which reminded me of this one I'd picked up just the day before at the Goodwill with the hanging body parts. I want to make one, too. It seems like the perfect project for using up the stash and not having to think too much. Nevermind that I've stalled out on this one, alas, but that is my special loser style. My room is so Cath Kidston–ified, I know (and I'm using this en-dash for you, Michelle, the person who taught me how to make one in html). That gingham doggie was made for me by my mom in the '70s. That calico cat is Bird-Killer Bridget.

Autumn, Fast upon Us

comments: 49

Spicerack3 Sorry, more on the spice jars. Not like I've actually baked or cooked anything in a couple of weeks other than two pies, but I am very, very excited to get back in there. I told Melissa that I ran out of vanilla extract and cinnamon on the same day, and felt a strange sense of accomplishment, the way I always do when I get to the bottom of any jar or bottle. Spool of thread, bag of flour, can of spray-starch. It always feels good to need more of those things, for some reason. Anyway, I brought all my bottles to New Seasons on Division, a local market. I had them weigh one bottle to get the tare weight, then filled up the rest of them and kept a list of what I was getting. The cashier then rung everything up, grudgingly. No one, absolutely no one there was nice to me while I was doing this. And they have this big sign on the side of the building that says "the friendliest store in town." Right. I didn't care, though. It was worth it. As I said, I saved a ton of money, and in this case that was worth it to me, meanies be damned.

Spicerack1A lot needs to happen today. I have a ton of email to answer. All my orders from the last week or so will finally ship, including the sneaker orders from the post about Calico Balloon, which won't be wrapped as I want them to because I'm not done designing the stickers/can't find the tissue paper/haven't decided on ribbon, etc. The Calico Balloon web site still won't be ready for a while. Everything's taking longer than I thought, but it's okay. My antique booth is going well so far, and I'm excited about that. I'm bringing a ton more stuff over there this week.

I'll also be putting my Stripey Sweater Handbags up on the Posie site this week. I had meant to make more of them (I think there are seven) and also make a whole bunch more stuff for the site, but it's not happening, and fall is fast upon us. It might also be a good time to admit something — I don't like Halloween. I was at Goodwill yesterday and they are fully decorated for the upcoming event, complete with real prosthetic legs hanging from the ceiling. It was so gross.

I'm a total party-pooper about Halloween. The only thing I really like about it is watching or reading The Woman in White, which we always do in October. (Speaking of novels, this is one of my favorites. If you are one of the many fans of The Fingersmith, I think you'll like this one, too [for your own, many, unfathomable reasons, of course — I can, as explained, only guess at these things].) Scary-cat Bridget came trotting into the living room yesterday with a huge dead bird hanging out of her mouth, cartoon-eyed and making that "Look what I killed, Mommy!!!" chirping noise. The blood-curdler I let loose would've felled the Headless Horseman, I tell you. It certainly scared the hell out of the Bee, who turned and raced out the back door (bird banging against her chest) faster than you can say boo and didn't come back for hours. Eeeeyuck. Poor, poor birdy. Naughty Bee!!!

Bright Spots

comments: 17

Sleepover1_1A new week, yay. I'm so glad. Thank you for all your thoughtful comments on the last few posts. It was kind of an intense week — it took me all the way until yesterday to ramp down. I was wiggin. This one will be a little better, but you know what? Next week I'll be cranking up the machine again because — another mag is coming, this time to do the whole house. But I don't expect it to be as disruptive, somehow. I don't know why I think this because of course I have no idea; but if nothing else my edges have been worn off and I have this feeling I'll be fine with all of it, as long as I don't have to clean up too much, because people, I'm telling you I am so sick of cleaning things up. My morals (see post below) must have improved a thousand-fold this month with all the packing/unpacking/cleaning/ straightening/fussing I've done. That's it. I want that pendant lamp for the dining room table and that is IT. (I'm still thinking that, although there is a plethora out there [these at Sorel's on Hawthorne], I'm going back for that one at West Elm.)

Sleepover4 We partied heartily on Saturday night with our niece, who charmed us as ever with her inimitable spirit and perspective. Pastaworks provided some special groceries for dinner and extra-special desserts. This week starts the new TV line-up, including Nigella's new show. I worked on my new spice bottles yesterday so I am ready. (And by the way, it is SO TRUE that going to fill up your spice bottles at a store that sells spices in bulk is exponentially cheaper than buying them individually, prepackaged. I filled up fifteen, from cinnamon to cardamom, and it cost about eleven dollars. The entire bottle of rosemary? Twenty-six cents. And I got all fifteen bottles at a garage sale for $1.00. So, I was psyched. They look really cute, too, with their labels. My spices were at least five years old, so this was just a cool project in every way for me.)

Sleepover5_1 It felt good to get out and walk around the neighborhood with a child. She jumps over cracks in the sidewalk, counts the steps in an entire block, lets the branches from a weeping willow brush over her on purpose. The little things are obvious, and obviously fascinating. Oh, to be seven again.

Sleepover6_1The next morning, she was excited, because she poured the perfect amount of syrup on her waffles, for the first time in her whole life.

Sleepover7I let her open all the Club Little House treasures, which came weeks ago and that I'd been saving until there was a clear surface in the house upon which to set them. (As it was, we immediately lost one of the olives on the teensy sandwich that Amy made anyway — sorry Amy!) Everyone did such a great job with everything. Thank you, thank you!

The Tiny Bit

comments: 36

Acorn Mmm, home alone. Just me, coffee, cats, and a corgi. I like it. It felt so good to get out of the house last night and go to Melissa’s, I could hardly wait. I was all dressed up at least an hour before I needed to leave, waiting with only my pie, my present, and the beer for Andy to get home. He was late, so I had another half-hour where I was just waiting in the quiet house, thinking. Add that to the half-hour I spent in the dentist’s chair after my teeth had been cleaned, waiting for the dentist to come in and tell me about my cracked filling. Sitting in the dentist’s chair for a half-hour with no magazine, nothing to look at but scary plaque posters, dental machinery (equally scary), dentist’s lamp (eeeew, creepy), or out the window, which from that chair-tilted angle revealed not a single tree branch, rooftop, or chimney, but just an expanse of wispy-clouded sky, you just relax. When she finally came in, she practically had to wake me up, I was so drowsy and vegged out. So all-told I had about two hours, two whole hours, of quiet solitude in which to ponder. Even though I said I wouldn’t think anymore. (I am stopping after this, seriously.)

I went to the library on Wednesday to get the essay I mentioned, Gary Saul Morson’s "Prosaics: An Approach to the Humanities" from volume 57 (1988) of American Scholar. This is an essay that’s available on-line as long as your local library subscribes to a periodical data-base and makes it available to you as a library card holder — Multnomah County library does, which is pretty cool; you enter your library card number on their web site and then have access to the stuff. (Don’t write and ask me how to do it, though — just be brave and give it a try, and if you can’t figure it out call them and ask, because they get paid to answer.) But otherwise you can walk right up to your local librarian who is just waiting for you to say, "Hi, I'm a taxpayer and I need to read this, please." And then in about two seconds she will print it out for you. And you will say, "My God, why do I never come here??? This place is awesome!!!"

Anyway, that is how you can read the article, which is well worth doing because I find its implications for novel-readers totally fascinating, and its insights for us crafty bloggers weirdly prescient. This will, of course, be a shallow interpretation of an exponentially much-better-thinker-than-I-am’s idea. As I mentioned, this essay is just one of two I’ve carried around with me from town to town over the past fifteen years (the other is Jonathan Franzen’s manifesto "Perchance to Dream: In an Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels" from Harper’s, April 1996 — you could get that one while you’re at the library, too). I was sort of right, when I was remembering it here, though I barely scratched the surface and am about to barely scratch it again (go read it, seriously). But anyway, Prosaics, says Morson, is "a way of thinking about human events that focuses on the ordinary, messy, quotidian facts of daily life — in short, on the prosaic."

But the idea is that it’s not just about having mess, it’s not that having things messy makes you a better person or something, as I hope I didn’t imply. It’s that the natural state of the world is mess (both literal and theoretical, I think) and what is interesting about it — what is, in fact, profound about it — are the efforts we make to tidy it, continuously, in a million little ways resulting in a million "tiny alterations of consciousness." It’s the fabric — the background — created by the result of those efforts that, although not necessarily dramatic, is important, and maybe even the whole point.

I wrote a while ago that I hadn’t "seen" things this way before my accident, but clearly I had at least read of them being so, in this essay, years before. I guess what I meant was that I hadn't "known" them this way, before. Though the moment of the accident was a major event, it was a random disaster, tinged with the regret of negligence, but with its own vaguely inevitable bearing. The cleanup, however, was comprised of a hundred million intentional gestures, from scalpel-wielding to tear-drying to "get-well-Alicia"-letter-writing, made in effort to close the wound. I saw the janitor’s efforts and the surgeon’s, then. It all seemed the same, and equally neccessary, to me. My desperation required every form of effort — janitorial, social, medical — in order for it to be salved. I remember once after I had returned home but was still in bed, I had a visiting nurse coming to change the dressings twice a day, and one morning when she was there a bird flew into the kitchen. Panicked, it flapped through the apartment. I became hysterical, from my bed, and bawled, "Oh no! Oh no!" She left my foot to catch the bird and throw it back out the window as I cried. I don’t even know why I was crying; she came back in (after having washed her hands of course), shaken, then continued to dab away at my poor, shredded foot. One thing at a time. It could be no other way. The bird was free. My foot looked good that day. Dab dab dab, smile. Those moments are the things I remember and, at the end of the day, the things that changed me more than the truck itself. Morson says:

"Most historians and philosophers tend to focus on the big events — on wars, revolutions, dramatic incidents, critical choices, and decisive encounters. Individual people, too, tend to tell themselves the story of their lives in terms of exceptional events and big decisions. But what if the important events are not the great ones, but the infinitely numerous and apparently inconsequential ordinary ones, which, taken together, are far more effective and significant? . . ."

And this:

"It is often the small items in the background of old photographs that most powerfully evoke elusive memories of the past. The things barely noticed at the time and included only by chance may best preserve the feeling of life as it was lived. The furniture long ago discarded, a spot on the wall, a picture we had long ignored but that now suggests the habitual life we lived beneath it — these small items remind us of how it felt to live in a room. The intended subject of a photograph can seem much less important in comparison with its background; and perhaps that is one reason why professional photos without a background so often seem to miss the very point of photography."

The characters of Leo Tolstoy (who Morson considers to be perhaps the greatest prosaic thinker) "achieve wisdom when they learn not to seek the great and poetic but to appreciate the small and prosaic," when they learn that the truths they seek are "hidden in plain view" like a picture on a wall we fail to notice though we "see" it every day. They learn that meaning is not "deep and distant, but here and everywhere." Selfhood is not something to be discovered but made, "an aggregate of habits, contingent facts, and clusters of order that continually interact with one another and with the hundred million diverse facts of daily life. . . . Our choices are shaped by the whole climate of our minds, which themselves result from countless small decisions at ordinary moments."

In participating in each "ordinary moment" we develop the habit of evaluating and correcting our thoughts in small, undramatic ways. Nevertheless, the moment — and the cumulative effect of these moments — matters. Chekhov, he says, always attributes ruined lives to daily pettiness and "petty squabbles." A reason, perhaps, to always let in someone trying to merge, to smile at the person who rings up your Big Gulp, to treat telemarketers with cheer instead of contempt? Countless small decisions at ordinary moments. You can change who you are with every one.

Morson says that of all literary forms, novels are best able to capture the messiness of the world, and in the great ones, "the texture of daily life is described with a richness, depth, and attention to contingent particulars that no other form of thought or literary genre offers. In novels we see moral decisions made moment to moment by inexhaustible complex characters in unrepeatable social situations at particular historical times; and we see that the value of these decisions cannot be abstracted from these specifics." Novels provide the details of peoples’ thought processes and experiences "thickly," and as we read them, we practice our reactions to particular kinds of people and situations. "Practice," says Morson, "produces habits that may precede, preclude, or preform conscious moral judgments in daily life." Novels for me, at least, have always been my religion.

It’s always been a curious phenomenon to me why certain books speak so strongly to certain people, and not at all to others. Apparently, there are a million infinitesimal reasons, specific and particular to each of us. (It also helps explain why it’s so impossible to tell someone else "what the book’s about," or why you liked it — only the process of reading it can really serve to say "why," and therein lies the paradox, no? Book reviewers and dust-jacket-copy writers would be unemployed.) Someone in the comments mentioned recently that they always watch movies to see what’s going on in the background. I do this too, and it’s why I almost never, ever remember the "plot" of anything, and I can almost never tell you "whodunit," though I can probably tell you what her wallpaper looked like, and if I liked her clothes, and whether the tone of her voice pleased me or put me off, or whether I thought she should’ve apologized, or been kinder there, whether she tried and failed — and all of those things are different than the things that you’d notice (and they are always different than the things Andy notices, and yet we are perfect for each other, etc., and how strange! and yet how not!) — but we each, we all, have our own things. (You see here, Jane, that I really do still love you even if you hated Prep!)

I don’t know exactly how blogs are like novels in all of this — I wouldn’t presume to know and I’m getting tired now and I bet you are too, but it’s somehow. I just know I’m happy to write mine, and happy to read others’, eager to see what’s in the corners of your homes, willing to show you mine, and I expect that the reasons why have everything to do with Prosaics, and my sincere attempts to be someone, however flawed and spastic, who seeks to improve, who starts with and believes in the small — and I bet you are, too, though our "smalls" are similar yet as varied as snowflakes. Morson says:

"Of course it is easier to remember the conclusion, summary, or interpretation of a work than the whole process of reading it. But if prosaics is right, then the process itself affects us as least as much, for good or ill. When Tolstoy wrote that the only way he could tell what Anna Karenina was about would be to rewrite it, he was, I think, stressing not the intricacy of his text as purely formal artifact, but rather the complexity of reading as a series of small decisions and moment-to-moment judgments. This process is not just indispensable to the point of the book; it is the point of the book. Like true life, art begins where the tiny bit begins."

Now, let's all go outside!

The Stuff in the Background

comments: 30

Belladress4I put my stuff back in the background this morning. Well, just this stuff, for this photo, because I was talking to Sally at Close Knit (my new favorite LYS) yesterday and their fall class schedule is out. I'll be teaching a class there in October on how to make this little dress. I'm excited about it. I haven't taught crochet in quite a while, and I think this will be a good dress to teach. It's not hard, there's a lot of repetition so it's sort of meditative and good to do while having conversations or TV-watching, and it would be darling on a little one for the holidays. Gosh, I love Sally. She has the GREATEST laugh. And she laughs all the time. I love the energy there. If you're thinking about taking a class this fall, do check out their offerings. My friend Leigh is teaching there this winter, too. Love that place.

The studio is in SHAMBLES. I really can't deal with it today. I have to go to the dentist this morning, and then all I want to do is come home and bake the apple pie to bring to Melissa's tonight. I feel totally shredded by the past couple of weeks. The photo shoot lasted from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. yesterday. They brought some of the major stuff back into the studio at the end of the day, but for the most part, 75% of what was in the studio is now in boxes in Andy's office, so it'll be like a move, like moving back in. It's all willy-nilly. Envelopes schmenvelopes. That's nothing. I would say as much as came out of the studio on Tuesday came out again on Thursday morning. It was my studio, but it wasn't really my style. I told myself that I would be okay with that, and I am.

I enjoyed the shoot, I really wound up enjoying the people, and I learned a lot. When I looked at the Polaroid of my portrait (ugh, ugh, ugh) and screamed because it looked like my boobs were falling out of my dress onto my sewing machine, the stylist came running out with a magazine she saw in my kitchen with Nigella on the cover (thank you so much for those, by the way, Caroline!) to show me how voluptuous Nigella is, and that it would be okay. It was totally hilarious. The studio and I have been in mags and newspapers and on TV before, but they've never restyled things to such an extent, taken so much out, any of those other times. I feel . . . I'm not sure what I feel about it today. I had a dream last night that I was on top of a staircase, a staircase on a boat, that went way, way up in the air, and I was wobbling around on it. Isn't that funny? It's a bizarre experience to have that much attention focused on a place that is so much just mine, so representative of my life; I felt a bit protective, hopeful, proud, nervous. It was a little like the studio was my pet, my special beloved friend, loaned out to strangers; she kept looking back at me like, "Is this okay, Lady?" It's okay, honey. It's all good.

The anthropomorphizing going on around here lately is totally bizarre. Maybe I am losing my grip. More on Prosaics later; I've got the essay from the library now and it's way more interesting than what I briefly described (interesting to me, at least). I think I need a good trashy novel and some TV, and a lot less thinking. Thank God the new fall line-up is starting next week. I will be too busy worrying about Luke and Lorelei breaking up (!!!) to think about myself. Relief.

Contain Yourself, Alicia.

comments: 38

Mess2 Mess1_2
"Mess is life, yadda yadda."

The Mess, Professionally Styled

comments: 73

RosesA stylist from Better Homes and Gardens Creative Home magazine was here yesterday, fixing up the studio for Thursday, when the photographer comes to take pictures of it for the spring '07 issue. She brought this gorgeous bunch of spray roses with her. I'm glad I checked to see if they needed a drink because there was something wrong with the container and it was leaking water all over the place. Poor babies! Got to them in time, though. I think they'll be okay.

The stylist and I worked on the studio all afternoon, mostly removing stuff from the room. Like, a lot of stuff — boxes of it. It's normally pretty densely packed. That was something I found interesting, and something I always wonder about when I look at magazines. Are the spaces really as austere in real-life use as they appear to be in the magazines? We "know" they're not. But it's nice to have confirmation: NOPE, they're not. At least, not mine, and apparently, not generally. Real-life stuff — envelopes, packing supplies, papers, any sort of extra clutter — it comes out. Then a whole bunch of cute, non-cluttery stuff also comes out — it just can't be too busy or nothing can be "seen." It's not that those people don't have those things in their life; those things are right outside the door of the room in about seven huge plastic boxes. We talked about it a lot and it was really interesting to hear how much moving and cleaning and clearing of stuff out happens before a photo shoot. For instance, in kitchens? They take out the glassware (transparent, doesn't photograph well) and replace it with dishes, china. Things that are too dark, black or brown? Those often come out. She showed me a few photos of other spaces that she had styled, and I asked her, Was that there? Was there something there that you took away? And the answers were usually no, and yes, respectively. Many things go, a few come. A few envelopes stay, suggesting a possible need to mail things. Just, interesting. Not that surprising, and still, a little surprising. We all do this when we take pictures of stuff, say things. I mean, unless your intention is to make something look crappy, or blabber away, editing is your friend. (I'm not saying my stuff doesn't look crappy or that I don't blabber away, mind you — just that it's not intentional. Unless it's like, now, the blabbering, which kind of is, just to illustrate, you get it though, etc. Nevermind. Moving on. [Like that. No one needs that.] )

I don't know what to feel about it, really. I'm a little conflicted, a little embarrassed (anyone who knows me in real life will pee in their pants laughing when they see how nicely my seven padded envelopes are now lined up, when in real life it generally looks like a hundred padded envelopes got mad, threw themselves at me, I batted at them with my forearms, then left them where they lay and walked away). I guess we want to be inspired and at the same time feel connected, like we can relate to the person who inhabits that life. After all, who doesn't have envelopes. It reminds me of that commercial where people are coming out of the church — bride, groom, and guests — and everyone looks totally disheveled, unkempt, like they just woke up (but the funny part is that they are all completely happy and not acting as if they are in any way disheveled). And then the voiceover says, "Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to care what you looked like? Unfortunately, you do, so there's Walgreen's" or whatever. Anyway, whenever I see that commercial I always crack up — because that juxtaposition, you can't help but picture what everyone would look like with their hair brushed — and I guess that's what happens to spaces that get photographed. They get their hair brushed. And cut. And colored. Highlights, at least. Maybe some eyeliner. We can't have them looking like they just got up. It's a special occasion, after all! And I must say that the room looks beautiful in its new, sparer state. DAMN ENVELOPES. Well, I couldn't mail anything to you if I didn't have envelopes.

Nevertheless, I couldn't helping thinking. An essay that changed my life is called "Prosaics: An Approach to the Humanities" by Gary Saul Morson. Morson is a lit professor at Northwestern, and I was introduced to this essay when I studied literary criticism in college in the late '80s. I carried my copy with me in a special folder of things I kept from school, and pulled it out again in graduate school in '95, when I hurled myself into The Brothers Karamazov with ardor. (Of course, my basement is a mess so I have no idea what I did with the article, but I think I'll go to the library today and get it. It's been a long time since I read it.) But, generally, Prosaics suggests that the stuff in the background, the mess and clutter of daily life (specifically as depicted in the Russian novel) is what counts. The things often overlooked, cloaked and rendered invisible in their very ordinariness — these are the most important things, the things that, collectively, are far more significant and consequential than the big, memorable moments. It's interesting, especially in terms of The B.K., for instance, where we know big things happen.

But this is something bloggers know already, or at least suspect is true, that the background is not insignificant. Oh no. It may even matter the most. The essay was sort of watershed for me at the time; it confirmed what I'd always thought, and changed how I would think about everything else. The blog is about the stuff, a little bit tidied; the Stuff is Everything. Or almost everything. Dr. Morson's probably sitting in his office in Evanston, looking at blogs and going, "See. Told ya. Somebody give me a raise. And somebody get me a TA [teaching assistant], too. This desk is a mess, man!"

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at