Monday, April 30, 2012

In the pink

Crazy girly pink at Gaspard,
on Queen West in Toronto  

A friend of mine claims she's paraphrasing Henry Ford when she says she believes clothes, like cars, are great in all colours so long as they're black.

I do adhere to this rule as well. Except for one little niggling thing. I am bored to death of black.

Now, there are world events and phone hacking scandals and Wal-Mart bribes in Mexico I could be paying solid attention to but at this moment, a moment that harkens a change in season and the promise of sunshine sometime soon, I find fashion a more engaging subject. Fashion, in the form of re-invention.

We have few creative outlets in our day and in our lives beyond the one choice we really should make daily which is "what should I wear". Even if you think you don't care, you do. You might not think it at first glance but my denim-clad brother is as demanding of precision in what he chooses to wear as any diva though he would throw a punch if you called him "fashionista". I know exactly how sartorially specific he actually is because I've tried my best to select what my mother has come to call "denim products" for him as gifts and failed somehow, those denim products reside in the back of the closet never to see light of day again.

And so the all black, hard-edged, near Goth look of late -- mixed schizophrenically with Sexy Secretary -- feels tired to me and I'm casting about for something new. Re-invention is fun my friends, and as Carrie Bradshaw says, shopping is my cardio. All good.

My lovely friend Helen was in town for a brief moment and with a brief moment of time on our hands we wandered into Gaspard, a lovely shop that feels like Paris though it is definitely here, not there. Helen had been gently counselling me to consider "less draining" colours, which she believes are easier on the being than the colours of death and mourning. She has a point. If you try something on, it can't be black she said. Poor thing. Standing there bored to death while I tried on ultra feminine silk shifts -- a definite departure in which I felt like I was play-acting and no one would buy it for a second, that I was sweet and femme.

Still, it is refreshing to shake it up. Is "colour" as defined, definite, elegant as black? Which is the appeal of darkness of course.

I had a thought though, while in something pink and frothy. When I gave up platinum blonde hair, ruby red lips and black eyeliner the world treated me more nicely. More respectfully. I was less threat to some, less quarry to others, less of a gimmick to still more. You get back some of what you project and the world has felt far too harsh of late. Maybe a change in image will change the entire picture.

Worth a try at least.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Going big on a big birthday

I am hurtling toward a rather big birthday and really don't want to hit it this...big.

I have a number in my head that is my ideal weight -- confirmed by my GP who reads it off a little chart she pulls out of her pocket every time I go in for a physical -- and I am determined to reach it though have been a varying number of pounds off the mark for a number of years. Never in the good direction either, no one is worrying that I'm wasting away I assure you.

I don't actually know my weight -- I'm gearing up to step on the scale, and my doctor is forbidden from telling me where I am. We have a kind of semaphore, she says either "well, you are not yet over the very top of the range" or "well, there's nothing really to worry about" which means of course "you can afford to lose a few pounds, Fatso."

I tried hard to reach my number on my last big birthday and got within spitting distance before falling into the poutine, so to speak. This time I've dabbled with Weight Watchers' new program which allows endless eating of fruit, all of which are zero. I love bananas. And may be the exception that proves the rule but lost nary an ounce so reverted to the old Points program which worked in the past. But I am a rebel at heart, and over- or under-achieve my Points allotment pretty much every day resulting in no loss of poundage whatesoever.

In desperation I've just tried the Master Cleanse, encouraged by a story by Jeffrey Steingarten, the brilliant food writer in Vogue (talk about your thankless jobs!) He tried the Master Cleanse and lasted eight days. I merely want to re-set my appetite so that I can actually do a good job of a proper diet and not feel quite so deprived and resentful of all those burger-eaters in the world.

The Master Cleanse is the lemonade fast -- drink six to 12 glasses of water with two tablespoons of lemon juice, two of maple syrup and cayenne. I have come to realize the cayenne is the key -- it knocks out hunger like nobody's business.

Because I am a cheater at heart, a rebel especially in matters of diet (very inefficient I must say) I have added a few of my own embellishments -- Perrier with lime for example. A tiny, infinitesimally small amount of red wine (my heart you see). Coffee. The headache just isn't worth it, and this is a weight loss thing not a cleanse thing, I could not care less about the cleanliness of my house never mind bowels or liver or whatever else is supposed to be made sparkly-fresh by this regime. Jeffrey lost weight, I intend to. Not even by this cleanse, but by using it as a kind of jump-starter.

You may be grasping why I'm not so great at actual dieting.

So far I can tell you that the Master Cleanse is remarkably satisfying. I am not hungry, or no moreso than usual. I am not bored, as Jeffrey was, because I tend to be a habit-oriented eater anyway -- I have eaten the same thing every day for years at a time. I have as much energy as I usually do.

A friend does this cleanse once a year for a month at a time, and always in the summer months and now I know why -- while there are no other ill-effects, I am freezing all the time despite the blasting radiators in my elderly apartment. The term "burning calories" may be more accurate than you think, and lemonade doesn't provide much fuel. I would think all this fat would be a great fire-starter but no. So, I compensate by having hot showers.

So far so good. The birthday is in sight and maybe so is the goal. I'll know more when I've gathered the courage to actually step on the scale.

My doctor recently intimated that I'm in range at least. No worrying "well you're not at the high end" but rather "a lot of women your age would like to weigh what you do."

I'm not sure that's entirely reassuring. But I'll take what I can get.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's never too late. Is it?

There is a tiny genre of books I'll call the "it's never too late" category. Generally found in fiction (there are a few real-life, non-fiction examples too) it's a micro-segment where a protagonist, usually aged or retired but certainly retiring, hapless and helpless and locked in a passive pattern of deep timidity, suddenly behaves in a way astonishing even to his or herself and comes to realize that life is meant to be lived. The story ends happily ever after.

My friend and former colleague Judith was the first to introduce me to this genre. The book she adored was Miss Garnet's Angel, the story of Julia Garnet who decides upon the death of her longtime and I think only friend Harriet to take herself to Venice for six months, where she discovers prosecco, art, beauty and flimsy lingerie. There's a bit of art history and a slight mystery thrown in, but the book is essentially about Julia getting her groove back for the first time.

Remains of the Day and its ilk fall into the category, and so does The Shipping News. The most recent entry is The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, also recommended by Judith who has a real knack for finding this sort of book, about a recently retired man too timid to tell off his bossy wife, too tortured by reticence to save his own son from destruction (or to even mention to anyone that the boy is on that path), too cowardly to face up to the cruel boss and dead-end job. Dear Harold is annoying as any protagonist ever created and then some, and the early going of this newly published work is so painful as to be what I call a wall-hurler. On account of this is what I wanted to do with Harold and his story. Hurl the damn book against the wall. Get a LIFE Harold!! Which, turns out, is the point exactly.

Further into the story something magical happens and Harold unfolds as a charming, even kindly sort of man who has the bonkers idea that if he just treks a thousand miles he can save the life of an old and terminally ill friend who once saved him from a big wad of trouble by taking the blame for Harold's one and possibly only act of "acting out" at the lousy job. Walking shakes loose memory and shyness, and Harold meets many wounded souls along the way and finds that he can help them and in so doing help himself. His leave-taking of the marital home means the old pattern of silence versus crabby judgement is broken, and he and his wife discover what is actually and truly remaining of their relationship. Many good things happen and so do a few bad things, and the friend does not miraculously live but miraculously, by the end and for the very first time, Harold does. He is no longer waiting to die but happily anticipating the rest of life with his wife who freshly feels the same.

Why these books resonate with Judith is a matter for her. My own reasons for welcoming them is founded on the past, from growing up on the prairie where "no one expects to dance"  in the words from a book of photographs of craggy midwestern Americans photographed by Richard Avedon. I very much did, and feared that the general to ubiquitous resignation and belief that "that's just the way it is" might drag me down like an irresistible undertow. My own parents, I thought, gave up on their own best chances in order to hunker down and earn a safe living and pass on opportunity to us, their children rather than grabbing it themselves. While that is a selfless and kind gesture if they even knew they were making it -- for all I know they were utterly blissed out by their own lives and wanted nothing more --  it seemed a waste of their own time, talent and opportunity. Please god I would not make the same "mistake" if mistake it was.

It's hard to imagine a world beyond the expansive prairie, where human scale is rendered ridiculous and it can take hours to get to the nearest neighbour. The bleakness of the landscape -- I used to call it "subtle" as a way of dressing up the fact there is nothing to see but more space -- and the harshness of how life is lived there had a tendency to make things like pursuing art or beauty or even food beyond what was necessary as fuel seem a little frivolous. There were other fighters there who did create art and literature but they seemed as rare as a lottery winner, or as unusual in their circumstances as the kid from the ghetto who somehow ends up in the NBA. That they were able to swim against that perilous current of the undertow was more miracle than norm and not to be expected of the rest of the gang.

I've lived now in much bigger ponds, to over-exercise a metaphor, but that undertow nonetheless does pull me. I've spent more time hiding under a pile of coats than that anxious child of prairie finds comfortable. So these stories of those caught in the undertow who nonetheless eventualy learn to swim are kind of encouraging, proof that eventually the true heart will triumph and it's never too late to become who you are supposed to be. Or to live the life you dreamed of.

Interestingly, once my parents got rid of us all once and for all they started living in a manner totally out of character, or so I thought. For a long time they had no actual home -- I called them itinerant -- and roamed and lived wherever their imaginations or desire would take them. They travel quite a lot now, sample a great deal of what the world has to offer and I once heard a report from a niece that my father even went exploring a cave or two which seems utterly bizarre for a man from the wide open space. Bizarre but adventurous. If you'd asked me then if I thought he'd ever do such a thing, well, you know the answer.

So it does happen in reality, too -- patterns are meant to be broken if you really want them to be. These books serve as a kind of inspiration, and, as it turns out, the stories aren't exactly fiction.

This is life. Go live it. It's never too late.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Kiss and Make-up

I'm no philistine, I read newspapers from other countries to get a wider world view. And it is in the UK's The Guardian that I found today's "most read" story -- on whether or not it is appropriate for women, and women of a certain age, to wear make-up.

This bit of breaking news was penned by my inspiration, The Invisible Woman (the UK likes these noms de plume, there was no actual Bridget Jones either) who writes a column called The Vintage Years.

The "art" to illustrate the story is a rather horrifying photo of Joan Collins doing Joan Crawford -- a woman who clearly loves war paint. It is helpfully pinned here so you get the drift The Guardian's photo editors were hoping you'd glean.

Now, I am not claiming that I lose sleep over it, or certainly wouldn't admit to doing so, but like Joan I do love artifice and of late I've been wondering if maybe I'm not laying it on a bit thick. It's age you see -- does embellishment embellish, or does it look like you're trying to slap new paint on an old shed?

One of my friends in the fashion business, who owns an extremely posh "high fashion" boutique and knows her stuff when it comes to the cutting edge, does occasionally give me the once-over and suggests I let her daughter, a make-up artist, give me a makeover. This is how I know I've overdone it at least on that particular day. This from a woman with flaming orange lips and nothing else on her face to balance the shock. I choose to disregard the input.

The thing is, makeup is fun, as fun as colouring books used to be. And it holds promise -- I truly believe the only thing standing in the way of perfect beauty is the right lipstick. I truly believe my rather unfortunate skin looks way better with YSL or Chanel or Dior's latest little bit of cover. (I went utterly crazy during the height of the "minerals" trend, when tinted rock dust was the new, new thing to improve one's surfaces.) I truly subscribe to the gospel of "concealer" and if you don't, you lead far too exemplary a life.

I started on the journey of painting my own face, with much the same tools as Monet may have used to splash paint on canvas, at a young age. Maybe 12. It was while we were camping at The Lake for the summer and while my brothers were off doing whatever outdoorsy things they were doing (I have no idea) I was in front of a mirror, maybe attached to a tree, slathering on what little I could find by way of makeup in my mother's purse. These were in her grrrrl years when she didn't subscribe to much in the way of feminine wiles and so pickings were slim but enough to get my creative juices flowing.

I mistakenly thought this latitude meant I'd passed a rite of passage and I was now "old enough" for makeup and maybe even pierced ears but alas, she insisted on fresh-scrubbed again when we were back in civilization. But the passion was well-ignited and remains on a fast burn today.

Sales help at makeup counters love me, as I'm a full-swathe buyer. I usually paint a "look" -- it is thought out and meant to demonstrate a persona, a character, a life. When I was young and more voluptuous I was Marilyn, with black eyeliner, white skin, red, red lips; I've been the "natural" girl with beigey lips and lots of mascara; I've been "French woman", sort of moderately coloured wtih bright but not garish lips; I've been rock-chick with dark eye shadow that looked like I've been punched, or as my friend Marianne puts it, spent the night f'ing or crying. I'm now back to Bright Lip, for the summer you know, on account of all the bloody colour I see on the shop rails. Clothes in these colours are too scary to wear, lipstick I can manage.

But am I too old to be playing with these crayons? Do I care if I am?

Diana Vreeland, the visionary editor of Vogue, lived to her death with lacquered black hair, vermillion lips and cerise streaks of blush across her cheekbones straight through to her ears. I admire her courage and her belief in being exactly who she was, and she was well respected for same.

I've decided to have a sense of humour about it. And a sense of "this is me, take it or leave it" which is the gift of maturity. When people ask me what I like to do in my spare time, I'm going to admit it. I'm going to say "I paint."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Fear

This fear of dying alone, not being discovered for weeks, is actually catching on......creepy as it is, it is now a trendy concern. Check out this NYT story:

I think there are a few things you can do to mitigate this rational yet irrational fear.

- Have friends. Make plans. When you don't show up, someone will call and call.
- Go with it. You're dead, what do you care how long it takes to actually find you?  (A friend of mine had a penchant for finding stories about old ladies being eaten by their cats, then cutting them out of whatever newspaper and leaving them for me on my desk. Good morning! So, if you do go with it, maybe do without the cat. Then again, you're dead so....) You might want to tidy things up, get rid of embarrassing journals or sex toys just in case -- THIS is the part that gives me the willies.
- Do get a dog and a dogwalker who comes in every day (so they say) to walk Rover. He or she will find you within 24 hours, unless you die on the weekend. So, you're found within a weekend at the longest.
- Carry your mobile with you at all times. Most people do this anyway, preferring their mobile to actual humans. So, should you fall and hit your head, you can call 911 when you regain consciousness, if you remember. And again, if you don't, well, see above, you're unconscious or dead so what do you care?
- Get an observant roommate, if you can stand it. I once considered marrying a boyfriend and went to a psychic for advice. She looked at me balefully and said "It would be to die." So one way or another......
- See a shrink. I don't know if much of life should be spent worrying about how long it would take to find your body if you're dead.

Monday, April 9, 2012

One is the magical number

When I was in second year university I concocted a great plan to live in a ramshackle house with a bunch of girlfriends and fellow students. I told my parents about this plan and my father, a rather stark truth teller (the subtleties of diplomacy and nuance aren't terribly necessary out there on the prairie) stopped me in my tracks. "But you KNOW you don't get along with anybody!"

This from a person I'd spent most of my life to date living with came as a bit of a sobering smack in the face of my vision of pyjama parties and all night gab sessions fueled by cheap wine and ice cream.

And yet, a more certain prophecy has yet to be uttered, sure enough within a few months the romantic movie version I saw had unravelled into cliques and factions and much bitching about whose turn it was to scrub the bathtub. I couldn't get out of that nest of vipers fast enough and it was with great relief I found my own ramshackle flat and stayed there, and lived alone, for the rest of my school days.

I tell you this as the backdrop to my view that single is the most luxurious and desireable state of being. It is possible, perhaps, that I just "don't get along with anybody" and therefore am preconditioned. Born this way.

However this urge to want to be alone, or the curse of same, is not an aberration but a trend. Marriages are happening later and dissolving sooner, and longevity is making loners out of even those who have no desire to be so-- US statistics show that by 2000, sixty-two per cent of the widowed elderly were living by themselves, a figure that’s unlikely to fall anytime soon. Huge cultural shifts including women's liberation, urbanization, communications technology all contribute to making it a lot easier to live alone, be alone, or be a whole lot pickier.

The New Yorker recently recently examined why we're all in a solitary state and questioned why it seems so darn scary -- "...the reputation of modern solitude is puzzling, because the traits enabling a solitary life—financial stability, spiritual autonomy, the wherewithal to buy more dishwashing detergent when the box runs out—are those our culture prizes."(Read the whole story:

Prizes indeed. Maybe I'm too soon out of a relationship but the freedom from constant negotiation feels like luxury.

I don't dismiss that one can feel like, well, a one-legged chair -- off-balance and precarious, dangerous in fact. One of my friends slipped in the shower and fell into a bit of a panic. If she had fallen harder and hit her head and was unconscious no one would find her and she would die. She immediately set out to find a husband -- this is no joke, this really happened and I loved her sweet naivety, or optimism. I have actually lived with men, quite a number though one at a time of course, and maybe it's just my experience but I suspect it could be quite some time before a husband found you slumped in the bath. I don't think any of my own partners would suss out the sudden silence until at least a mealtime.

That said, the reason to live with someone, and find love, might be that it is good for your health or in case of accident.

The thing about living alone, though, is it doesn't need to be lonely or unpopulated. After the first man I lived with decided he truly did not love me anymore and sent me on my way I had a small epiphany. I had laboured over the creation of ever more delicious meals, and sought out the best most interesting events to attend as a way of beguiling his interest, and I thought well, if I'd do it for him I would do it for me. Have my own dinner parties and explore my own art galleries or movies or "happenings". I would create my own rich life. And as I did, life became ever sweeter.

There is strength in numbers, that is true. But strong and sure also comes in ones.

For a more erudite examination of living solo, check out “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone” (Penguin), a book written by Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at New York University, who has spent the past several years studying aloneness.