Friday, January 11, 2013

Enough is enough

In the spirit of "new year new you" and resolutions and all that I have taken on a monumental task and am cleaning my flat.

As a hoarder this involves a lot more than merely tidying and washing things. It involves confronting demons, the past; it involves a lot of feeling most people don't ascribe to mere objects.

It's not easy being borderline looney-tunes.

This desire to un-hoard hasn't come out of nowhere. I was deeply inspired by the author Bella Andre who was a feng shui consultant long before she became a gazillion-selling writer. She gave me a read of my space and suggested the adjustments necessary which brought me face to face with things like "the junk drawer" and the scary corner where all the stuff is piled up.

This is what I discovered.

I had about five pounds, that is 5lbs, that is 2 kilograms or more of red lipstick. That's just red. At about $30 a tube, that pile of crap respresents a sizeable investment -- the equivalent I'd say of a very beautiful, and necessary, sofa which I think or thought I couldn't afford. Ha. I can afford anything so long as I stop buying red lipstick. And that's just red. I have equal investments in pink, hot pink and neutrals.

Hair products? I should open a store. I have enough product to treat every single hair on my head with something different. Clothing? Five groaning closets even after several large garbage bags were shipped to the landfill.

I have much of a muchness.

Just as I was becoming increasingly ill at the plenty with which I am surrounded, I saw an FB post from a friend who had a similar fit of cleaning and a similar sickness to her stomach at all she had accumulated for no good reason. She suggested a year without spending. Necessities -- food, shampoo (in moderation, only as much as necessary), toilet paper, are ok but no spending on the fun stuff like clothes or red lipstick.

That she is considering this was pretty big news among FB friends -- she's a stylist and fashionista such that I feel compelled to take full inventory plus sources of everything she's wearing every time I see her. She's fabulous and in the decades I've known her I can honestly say I've never seen the same thing twice no matter how fantastic it was.

We are shoppers. And we both think we need to cut back. As with AA and its view that every addict needs a sponsor, we're going to try this together. We're thinking of creating a blog to express the joys and frustrations of not shopping.

Because sometimes enough is enough. Maybe that's the name of the blog.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The writing life

I went to Paris for the first time with a man who was already ex. The tickets had been purchased, the plans made -- he'd suggested the trip when I said I could not contemplate having children yet, I hadn't even seen Paris. Between that lovely thought which sounds like he meant something by it, and the act of getting there, fell the shadow of doubt and we split.

Still, we had a grand time being separated in the city of light and love.

We were there for Bloomsday and we happened upon Shakespeare and Co., how perfect. In front of the famous bookstore and Bloomsbury group outpost was a semi-circle of sort of dun-and-brindle coloured elderly people on rickety chairs, reading aloud in the sunshine.

That, said the ex, is why print is dead. We live in a visual age.

He fancied himself quite a visionary and was deeply impressed by his previous girlfriend who was a style maven, someone we might call a fashionista. Or maybe not. She was deeply stylish apparently and so he valued style above all things. His six year old son would wander downstairs for breakfast and this man would say "looking cool man, you look cool" rather than good morning, or is your homework done. Maybe six year old don't have homework. But they don't need "cool" so much either, or so I thought at the time.

I thought of this Bloomsday episode again last night at a literary event, an awards ceremony. The ceremony itself was elegant and lovely and all the winners as earnest as their books.

Alas the crowd. Whether it comes from this ex or not, I am a dedicated follower of fashion and style and assess every crowd I'm in for same. This was definitely a bookish one. And this tribe has its uniforms.

I've met four blockbuster multimillion selling authors in the past few weeks, and three of them dressed nearly identically in  large  hoodies, jeans and if not sneakers then something like a Blundstone. It's actually a good look -- kind of louche, and the hoodies are spanking new and more expensive than you'd expect so look pretty good rather than what you'd find on the average subway ride. In fact, one of these authors, Dennis Lehane, had on a t-shirt and hoodie under a kind of blazer like jacket that was so fantastic I wanted to ask where he got it. I held back. "Stick to the book, stick to the book," I said to myself but may tweet him about it later.

But as of last night I'm seeing  some dubious trends in the women's department.  The ladies of publishing have embraced the current trend toward colour and more forgiving shapes, though they do tend to let this last thing move into shape-less. And colour tends to show up in rather alarming novelty hose --  a look best left to tweens or starving models who have reedy limbs and youth on their side. The thing about writing, reading or even editing is it often involves a lot of snacking. And this results in more red, or lavender, or yellow than these legs can elegantly handle. Top this off with an equally "novelty" oriented shoe and you've got yourself something too startling for good style.

The "it" bag? A backpack. Yes. I saw many. Too many. These are ok if you're going to the gym and I can assure you no one in this gang was heading there. And there were too many overstuffed mommy-bags. We don't need to carry our lives with us everywhere ladies, and certainly not to awards ceremonies. You don't see Cate Blanchett humping one of this filled with the ziplock baggie of Cheerios, bottle of water and umbrella in it as she makes her way down the red carpet now, do you?

The formal attire for the struggling male author? It's a version of the successful author's. A sweatshirt with a random logo on it. Usually in a colour more commonly found in a forest -- lichen grey, muddy brown, dull green.

Now, I'm loving being back close to the book business and find the stories and the ideas that make up books wonderfully inspiring. But the inspiration ends with a thud -- we do live in a visual age and wouldn't it be great if the same care and attention went into the appearance as well as the substance. That would be powerful. That would be blockbuster.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My bat Tub

When you tell people you have a bat in your bathroom, reactions vary but the range can be summed up by two endpoints: "ew" and "cool!"

Far more fall into the first category. I've heard "is it rabid?", "be careful, it's rabid", "don't let it bite you it's probably rabid"; "I hope it doesn't have babies" (yes, babies - I heard "rabies" the first time, too), "bats are vermin and carry disease" and "did you kill it? or "how did you get rid of it?".

The bat, which at a friend's suggestion I called Tub, actually resided between the screen and the barely opened window over the bathtub, not actually in the room itself. I thought for several days it was a leaf, or a leaf and stick arrangement of some sort, my eyes aren't so good these days and in fact I've often shouted at my dog for impolite behaviour only to later realize it was just a curled up dead leaf. So in the early going, Tub was just a dead leaf to me.

But then Tub was on the move, sort of stretching across the screen, showing off her amazing wings and thus came into being in my life.

My great friend who named her is an artist and artists see the world way differently than the rest of us do so her first impulse had nothing to do with my health and safety but rather "what does a bat mean? Let me find out, animals are spirits." Tub might carry a spirit, not rabies - a consoling thought.

Turns when a bat visits it is entirely good news. It has everything to do with rebirth, letting go of the past, chucking out habits that no longer serve a purpose. A bat, night creature and mysterious as it may be, is actually a harbinger of change, a move from darkness to light.

What a wonderful message, especially after two plus years of hard road and a recent really stony- straight up-steep-with-a-switchback bit. What better time to be visited by a sweet little brown bat?

I met another shaman too, right after Tub arrived, who also predicted positive change. I'm now off to Feng shui the place, and she was so right when she said "if you tell me the messiest places in your home I can tell you the biggest issue you're facing." She also suggested putting a plant in the bathroom to offset the water (some Feng shui principle, I don't know) and while there isn't enough light for a plant to survive, Tub stands in as a living thing offering positive energy.

Except Tub went out for dinner the other night and hasn't returned. I'm kind of bereft and in saying that I realize how bonkers that sounds. Still. I miss the little mouse-with-wings.

That said, she did good work while she was around. I hope wherever she is it's as cozy and friendly as the place she left.

Be well Tub, safe travels.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Real life stories

I am lucky enough to have a job that often puts me in the way of interesting people, and sometimes these are authors.

Yesterday I met with Lee Child, who has written a gazillion books starring the quirky Jack Reacher. I have come late to the Child oeuvre, mistakenly thinking his were spy novels and I always find those too complicated and arid for my casual reading tastes. Nope, Child's books are mysteries, or thrillers if not always a big fat mystery, and they star Reacher who is a former military cop with amazing skill at fighting (the world slows down for him and he can determine the precise geometry of the punch that won't hit him) and tremendous knowledge of guns (there is a type of revolver which is the one you want if you are ever forced into a game of Russian roulette with just one bullet, because the weight of the bullet will always be at the bottom and thus won't be in your brain. Handy to know, though you may not want to try this at home.) Reacher's quirk is that he is itinerant and owns nothing -- he buys new clothes when the old ones are too filthy to pass, and stays in crap motels as he wanders America to stop crime.

I flirted with Mr. Child mercilessly -- charming and refreshing as I no doubt am, I did notice he was gazing rather anxiously around the room for help -- and we got to talking about Reacher and whether he was ever going to find a nice woman and settle down. A sub-plot of the past few books has been Reacher's steady progress toward Virginia and a woman, and of course the hovering question is what will happen between them when he gets there.

"The problem is he likes smart women and no smart woman would put up with him," says Child. Why not? "Well, he's smelly and he has no money."

Smell, I don't know. There are bathrooms with showers in most motels, and Reacher does carry a toothbrush in his pocket. But no money? He buys new clothes every few days -- in one book it is divulged that his clothing budget is about $10,000 a year, higher than mine and a figure that would buy some decent Celine if that were his taste. And cheap motels at say $79 a night -- his rent is higher than mine.Neither Reacher nor I own a vehicle or a home, and he spends more on clothes. As I was pointing this out to Mr. Child in Reacher's defense, he didn't so much change his general point of view on the character he'd created as take a step away from the insistently flirty, itinerant, poverty-stricken woman at his side.

While we can debate whether Mr. Child is mistaken about those essential elements, eg. whether Reacher can rightly be termed as having "no money",  more to the point, women, even smart ones, seem to overlook many flaws in order to be with men. So the author is wrong -- Reacher in real life would have no trouble in nailing down the lady of his choice.

Think I'm making this up?  I have a friend who has been smitten and heartbroken over a man in his 50's who has no job and no prospects of having one. But poverty isn't the reason for their disharmony-- nope, the real reason is he has told her that he is unable to commit to have sex with just one person, he has to have lots of sex partners in his life at all times. That he is able to have even one boggles my mind and that's where Child and I are similar.

However I must admit that in  my own life I've put up with cheating-and-apologizing, meanness, dullness, and cheapness. I have given years of my life to men who were only so interested, and who took the first train outta town as soon as they could.

I have no idea where the imaginary Reacher will end up, and that's for Child to say. But I do know what would happen in real life. And you know what? I prefer the fantasy world of Child, where smart women can enjoy a bad man for a fleeting moment if he intrigues her, but then move on to better things.

May the worlds of imagination and reality become one.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Imperfect Perfection

Maybe the first sign of this apocalypse was when rock stars started to become health freaks, shooting up B-complex vitamins and human growth hormone instead of heroin.

What we have today is a rampant case of perfection, or at least rampant among the people I hang around with when I can, and it has rendered life a little, well, dull.

I was at a lovely brunch just yesterday where only a modest amount of prosecco cut with fresh squeezed juice was consumed. Nobody had a second helping, and no one finished their tiny slice of the most glorious chocolate cake on earth.That's okay I suppose, it was Sunday and all, but it was a departure from the booze-infused massive greasy brunches I knew in younger days.

The talk around the table was of women our age or thereabouts, and here is where perfection has taken hold in deep earnest.

There is the colleague who really, really wants to meet a man and has a whole system worked out of where to be and on what night; the crimp in the plan is that this fantasy man has to be met between 6:30 and 9pm because she has to leave a certain number of hours between eating and sleeping in order to have the least impact on weight plus there's the race on the treadmill to do before bed. Does it need to be said that no gentleman has yet taken this one on?

I have friends who eat a slim bean and sip tepid water when we go out because of the run/early start/"ton of work" to do at the crack of dawn or earlier. I have friends -- actually this is my category -- who can't eat anything white, or dairy-gluten (the curse of the modern world apparently) or have to have only lean protein, no carbs and that means no smart cocktail and don't get me started on the vegans.

The essential element missing from a broad spectrum of life today is FUN.

I am a sucker for perfectionism too though you'd never know it to look at me. I love a good strict regime -- yes the cayenne-maple syrup-water thing found its way into my life as did Six Weeks to OMG, Atkins, South Beach and the rest. I have gotten up at dawn for the run and freaked if I couldn't get to the gym after work.

The sum of it though was simply stress. The actual quality of my life was not improved by these restrictions.

There are two ex's in my life who summed it up. When I was going on about the fact that white flour or a teaspoon of sugar (white! the devil!) had passed my lips, one of them would look at me and say "please don't visit me with your mishegoss." The other, a  blunt Yorkshireman if there ever was one, would not even look up from the newspaper or computer screen and say in the most bored voice possible, "oh shut up you dreary bitch."

Quite right! There is an excess of dullness pervading what should be the best years of our lives! Even Jesus himself ate, drank and hung around with loose women. The only thing to be gained by perfection is solitude and loneliness!

Perhaps the thing is to add enjoyment to life, rather than perfection. Let's see what happens when we do that. Let's see if the run on the treadmill or the gluten free lean organic local artisanal protein seems so important then.

Maybe I'll have chocolate cake for lunch today. And ice cream. Just to see what happens.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Being and nothingness

I know it's been ages since we've talked. I'm so sorry about that, summer you know, all the stuff and work and of course patios to visit and such. Well, I say "busy" but I mean "lazy", it's opposite.

No worries right, here we are again and I thank a lovely reader who pointed out that it has been a long while since we've gotten together.

I am reading a wonderful column in my beloved NYT which I would like to share with you. It goes like this, and I relate to it in the Pavlovian way I check my inbox. There's something here, and I'll of course opine more but do read this brief essay:

As a carryover from childhood camps, I still instinctively check my mailbox with excitement. At camp, when I felt homesick, the arrival of mail from family was a reminder that I was not forgotten, that somewhere in the great world, though not here, my existence was written boldly in another’s ledger. Now, despite my Pavlovian reflex, browsing my mail is not merely unexciting but depressing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

To my fellow cyclists.....

Hey you, Sister Yogamat! Love your total zen, I really do, and it's so great that you come to a full and complete stop at every stop light and sign. Both feet flat on the pavement that's wonderful. Truly, you're taking one for the team, you really are and that's just great. You do notice the rest of us trying to get by you are a lot more like the cars and making nodding acquaintance with the signage as we TRY to zoom by. But seriously Sister, do you REALLY need to be out and about in your meandering way at this hour, when I'm trying to get to work? Surely you can stretch it out and align your chakras later?

And you, Big Bells with your ting-ting-ting in my left ear, you are seriously getting on my last nerve. Yes I see you, yes I know you're there but what do you want me to do about it? I am sticking to the very straight and narrow lane I'm allotted and jeeez already you're safe from me you really are. No sudden moves here. We're all just trying to get on with our day.

Whew. Ok. Breathe. Serenity now.