Sunday, July 31, 2005

Now & Then

Blogging at least five years after everyone else, I often feel like a kid eating lunch alone against the playground fence. Finally though, I’ve been tagged. (Thank you, Stripey Tiger!)

Ten years ago: Sitting in the sun in Tompkin’s Square Park with Jessica and Jennifer, trying to decide whether to visit Isaac on Cape Cod or not. Wondering what it might mean? Living on East 11th Street between B & C, about to start graduate school. Buying a vintage Raleigh Sport at the Chelsea Flea Market and carrying it up and down four flights everyday.

Five years ago: Listening to the Republican National Convention on NPR while printing on a Vandercook Universal 1 at the Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. Staying in a Gold Coast high-rise, we watch as a storm approaches over Lake Michigan and suddenly the sun lounges are launched into the pool on the rooftop below us. The storm currents are visible white contrails as they twist and snake around buildings. We swim in the lake in our underwear and walk home wet and sandy past Barney’s and Prada.

One year ago: Driving from Cleveland to Cape Cod, I stop at a motel that turns out to be full (although there are suspiciously few cars in the car park.) There’s a glass vitrine in the foyer displaying Brylcream and a handwritten note: For Sale. For the past month, I’ve slept in my studio and woken each morning to a red, pulsing orb in the east-facing window.

Yesterday: Two films at the MIFF, one good, one bad. So bad that if I still had a subscription to Harper’s, I’d cancel it. Sanding the broken-down garden chair that I pulled out of the solid rubbish a few years back, and that my father has been tripping over in his garage ever since.

Today: Five jars of lemon butter. Sanding. A Korean film at the Forum. Remembering that the salesman who sold my parents their Guzzini light fixture in 1982 worked there nights as an usher. Didn’t the ceiling used to be painted with stars?

Tomorrow: Perhaps I’ll clear my desk? Empty my inbox? Receive a letter? A cheque? A parcel? A job? Perhaps I’ll finally start my Rare Versatile Vest Wrap. Perhaps it’ll rain.

I’m not a tenth as happy now as ten years ago.

Do you know about Perhaps I’ll write to the future me tomorrow, with all my hopes and best wishes.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Harrell Fletcher was my first blog crush. His site, while not actually a blog per se, is so revealing and thoughtful that it reads like a template for what a great blog might be. I discovered his site earlier this year, possibly by googling “Packing Up Your Whole Life” or “Reassessing Everything You Possess” or “How To Deal.” (I look to the Internet for answers.) I found inspiration and reassurance in this and this, but Harrell was the one who spoke to my heart and made me cry. Particularly resonant was the fact that he conducted this project at the Headlands, where I spent three months in residence in 2003. It’s a special place, and I often think longingly of the achingly beautiful landscape, Katie Powers’ awesome cooking and the perfect day we spent at Muir Beach on Isaac’s 39th birthday.

I was happy to learn that Miranda July’s film Me and You and Everyone We Know is part of this year’s film festival. July’s and Harrell Fletcher’s project Learning To Love You More has been a web favourite for some time. I intend to complete Assignment #14, as requested by Erin, and you should too. We all need these types of lists.

The film was lovely, if a little trite at times. Sometimes when I go to see a film with preconceived notions of How Much I’m Going to Like This (Read: A Lot), I need Isaac to prod me into seeing obvious flaws. Of which there were some, but so what? I liked it.

In the darkened cinema, I was conscious of the weight of stories around me. People struggling with immigration issues, work crises, illness, regret. Happiness, and how to get and/or keep it. How to find a place in the world. I like art that attempts telling these stories.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Le marché aux puces

Two loves: typography & notions.

Monday, July 18, 2005

That's Med!ocre

Mired currently in career crisis, it is good to get out now and then and remember why one should be glad that one is not a Graphic Designer™. Toiling on the outer edges of the design field, it’s easy to go weeks without using the terms “sub-branding” or “stakeholder.” It’s possible to forget that designers are as much to blame for the homogenisation of our cities as media monopolies, big box stores or Starbucks. Out in the design periphery, the exclamation point is still on the far edge of the type case; in corporate design, ! has come to embody all the hyberbolic aspirations of consumerist culture.

Not Me!

Saturday’s Character forum was an unsettling but welcome reminder. Much was made of the success of the That’s Me!bourne campaign, with longing reference and comparison to Milton Glaser’s I Love NY. City of Melbourne industrial designer Ian Dryden and branding expert Vincent Lazzara stayed on message, moving from A to B to C through their PowerPoint presentations, forgetting they were at a public forum and not simply pitching clients. Andrew Haig considered the subject at hand thoughtfully, but seemed resigned to the limitations of destination branding. He likes the That’s Me! Campaign, but he loves I Love NY. Which must have made New York native Jeremy Wortsman wish he’d never left home. His was the only presentation which strove to illustrate the particularities of the city, the beauty of its vernacular forms and the hope that something regional and real might come out of an examination of those elements. Despite Stephen Banham’s humorous and earnest exhortations to debate, the afternoon never took off.

Contributing to the problem, I posed an incoherent (non)question to the panel, mumbling about particularities and the off-putting, empty slickness of That’s Me!bourne. What I really should have asked was this: Why is it that the more branding we do, the more we start to look alike? Why can’t we let stories and images and intrigue attract visitors to our city? Why can’t we love our own city with the kind of passion New Yorkers show theirs? Why can’t we generate this passion from the ground up, instead of the top down? Why can’t we start looking for answers in Richmond and Northcote and Fitzroy and Heidelberg and Bayswater, not New York or London or Toronto or LA? Are we less interesting, less unique, than we once were? Are our cities? We need to look back to an era in which loyalty was something deep and true, not just a catchphrase on a credit card application or the tagline for a branding campaign. We need to stop trying to sell our souls. Design, I think, needs to be a force of good, not evil.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Gold Medal

Some of you may have noticed that Learn Plastering is #1 on my To Do List. Originally, Get a Job occupied this position, until I decided that the list should reflect more hopeful, whimsical or crafty plans, not just sheer necessities. I'm not about to announce to the World Wide Web that I need to Buy Doormats or Clean Toilet, now am I? Get a Job belongs on that other, more prosaic list. Thus, Learn Plastering found itself in the #1 spot.

In my usual fashion, my first stop was the local library. At dinner that night, I offered Isaac his choice between Plumbing Repairs Made Easy (Simple, Safe Instructions) or Plastering: A Craftsman's Encyclopaedia. He choose the former, citing it's slimness and comic book-like appearance. It was the safer choice as well, given that a professional plumber was scheduled for the next day.

A few minutes with Plastering: A Craftsman's Encyclopaedia revealed that I'm in way over my head. The Encyclopaedia covers Entablature, Entasis and Exotherm. Begins with a plasterer's definition of Abacus and ends with Zinc Profile. Want to float to walls containing piers? The Encyclopaedia tells you how. What the Encyclopaedia doesn't go into are the kind of make-do fixes I'm looking to master. Filling in the crumbly holes left behind when you thought you wanted to hang a picture here, but, no, it really should go there. Disguising fractures that scribble up and down the walls, supposedly unavoidable in our ex-flood plain neighbourhood. I'm looking for reassurance that the skills I bring to spreading icing with a slightly warm spatula can be transferred seamlessly to the repair of our only asset. The Encyclopaedia doesn't deign to this kind of thinking.

Instead, it's a lesson in humility. The authors: Brian F. Pegg, CRP and William D Stagg, CRP are both past Chairmen of the Plasterers' Craft Guild. Both have won gold medals: Brian, in 1960, for the Plasterering Final Craft Examination, and William, in 1972, from the National Federation of Building Trade Employees. Brian is an organiser of the National Plastering Competition at the Building Exhibition, Olympia, and William serves on the Craft Committee of the City and Guilds of London Institute. Both hold positions as Lecturers in Plastering.

This level of expertise makes me happy to open my chequebook. If you know a good plasterer, let me know. In the end, I'm a little like the Home Depot crowd in New York City, eschewing the DIY ethos for, no, let me pay YOU to do it. I'm guaranteed to ask annoying, ill-informed questions, but I provide baked goods and refreshments. I believe in rewarding Gold Medal achievement.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Occupational Therapy

There was a moment yesterday afternoon when I thought: I feel strange. I need to stop drinking caffeinated tea. Soon after, something hit and I realised: I'm sick. Not dramatically so, but my joints ache just enough to make knitting unpleasant and a planned trip to Ikea is definitely out of the question.

I'm so rarely sick that I tend to remember bouts quite clearly. Today I've been remembering a time when I was hospitalised with fever and severe abdominal pain. I was eight or nine or ten. I was hallucinating that I was a character on the TV show The Sullivans. Or rather, that I lived in the world of the show, which at the time was nearing it's season climax. My father, a doctor, gave me an injection of something before taking me to the hospital. I was admitted to a children's ward in which there was a kid named Elvis with severe burns. He lay in bed under a wire frame so that the blankets didn't touch his skin. By the next day, I felt fine. In occupational therapy, I started stitching a leather wallet. I was in the hospital for a few days with something which may or may not have been appendicitis, and every day I went to occupational therapy. It was a severe blow to be released, perfectly well, but with my wallet unfinished.

Monday, July 11, 2005


No photographs, because it was dark and crowded inside the Federation Square carpark yesterday and, due to rising claustrophobia, I forgot. The ReadyMade Market is part of this week's Melbourne Design Festival, and I was interested to see who might be there. I found it to be a strange mix of retailers alongside small, independent makers. Kind of a cross between the International Contemporary Furniture Fair and Renegade.

The space was cramped and bottlenecks slowed the flow of traffic. I know I gave up a number of times, and although I'm sure a crowd augers well for sales, pushing and shoving do not. I took a number of stallholders business cards for future reference and will stop by some of the retail outlets.

I liked Succulent Designs sunhats.

The Hamb story is a very sad one, but has resulted in some lovely t-shirts.

I will be making an appointment to visit Luna Gallery's showroom to see more of their lovely knitted things, particularly since they are right around the corner.

Later this week, I will attend Character, a public debate on Melbourne's typographic presence, and will wish I'd known about this competition in time to enter.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


I can't remember who told the story of shipping so much yarn that she had trouble convincing customs officials that it was her personal stash and not a shop's inventory.

Having just completed my own move with two largish plastic storage bins full of yarn, I admire those among us committed to exclusively knitting up the stash. False Entrelacs is a start, but before it's even off the needles, nine balls of Rare Yarns Company Rare Fire have made their way into my house. It's accounted for at least, for a wonderful pattern called the Rare Versatile Vest Wrap that I saw knitted up in the window of The Knitter's Workshop down the far end of Lygon Street. But guilt almost cancels out the excitement of imagining the vest knitted up.

The Great Moth Horror a couple of years back forced some painful de-stashing of the throwing-in-the-bin kind. Since then I've been much more conscious of storing yarn safely and thus am frequently confronted by how much I have. Perhaps I can rationalise things a bit by not including inherited and otherwise unidentifiable yarns in the stash total? Perhaps only yarns intended for specific projects count toward that total? And perhaps then all the rest can be called Inspiration or Potential or the ready makings of a great yarn swap.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

False Entrelacs

Begun in honour of the 2005 Melbourne Scarf Festival. Deceptively simple, I'm quite certain that I made a mistake way back in the final row of the first increase section. Can you see it?

Here is my quandry: do I frog back, or continue on? This question has dogged me all week, but instead of putting the work down while pondering my options, I've continued to knit on pending a decision. Which, in fact, may BE the decision: the more I knit, the less likely I'll want to rip back. Perhaps my hands have already decided, but my brain hasn't signed off on it yet.

The yarn is Baby Alpaca from Plymouth Yarns Colour #1390. I bought this yarn in 2002 at Northampton Wools in upstate New York. The scarf in the store was knitted in Grignasco Top Print, but the yarn was sold out. The man minding the store didn't think there was a pattern available, so I drew a diagram on the back of a piece of scrap paper. Time went on, with the intended yarn maturing in my stash. By now, I had only a vague memory of the pattern and my diagram was long lost. I became convinced that the technique used was entrelac and made vague attempts to find out how to do it. Then my diagram reappeared during our move, and a phone call to the store confirmed that a pattern did indeed exist. Inspired by the Festival and the chilliness of our new house, I decided to knit it up quickly, virtuous in the fact that no new yarn needed to be purchased (although a new set of Addi Turbos was required.)

Then the problem. By now, this mis-knit row has become a real crisis of character. Am I a person who can accept a flaw that has no overall impact on either function or beauty? Can I get with the wabi-sabi of life? Or will I finally frog back, unable to bear it a second longer, struggling for ever-elusive perfection? The smart money is on the latter, but I'd so like to be that other person that I might just surprise myself and knit on.