Monday, February 27, 2006

To hell in a handbag

Remember the studio space I waxed lyrical about last December? I’m still in negotiations, if by negotiation you include bullying, deception, accusation, strong-arm tactics and condescension. I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow, but the lowest point thus far came during the week with an irate phone call from the real estate agent demanding to know why I was harassing the owner. I’d called his business number, during business hours, to confirm that he’d received my offer and to ascertain that the property was still on the market. The agent, hysterical, wanted to know why I was going behind his back, harassing a man about to enter hospital for cancer treatment. Now, I hardly think a single brief phone call constitutes harassment, and I wasn’t trying to make a deal on the side. But I felt sick with shame, convinced that I’d made a big mistake and ruined any possibility of congenial relations with the landlord. Later, I was struck by the underhandedness of using cancer as a bullying tactic: even if it is true (and it sickens me to doubt this but I do), it’s irrelevant to the terms of the lease.

I’d give up if I didn’t really believe that this is the right space for me. For weeks, I stopped myself from dwelling too long in daydreams in the hope that I could forestall disappointment if the negotiations didn’t work out. When the agent called three weeks ago to tell me that my offer was accepted, I let myself revel in the victory. I announced my success at dinner, and started planning a party. When I received the paperwork and saw that yes, they’d accepted my offer, but exclusive of tax (after all previous offers had been tax-inclusive), I got mad. I called my lawyer. I went back to looking at other properties. I complained to my shiatsu therapist, who offered to call them. I complained to my psychotherapist, who, in a Sopranos-like moment, offered the services of one of his other clients, telling me that “it would be good for him.” (When I asked why, he responded “He has his own real estate issues.”) I’ve been flailing about, anxious for advice from anyone, alternatively convinced that all this would be different if I were a man, or taller, or had a more authoritative voice. I doubt myself. When I hear Isaac telling someone that we’ve found a place, or we’ve made an offer, there’s a little voice inside of screaming: Me! Me! I did those things! I’m like a little kid, hankering after an encouragement award.

To this end, I’m mulling over the idea of forming a local group to meet informally to discuss business start-up issues. Could you drop me a line if you belong to such a group, or have ideas about how best to organise one? I’m imagining a small group of people willing to share information and advice about the day-to-day trials of leases, taxes, marketing etc. If you’d like to join me, I promise not to whine too much. And if I get my equipment up and running, I may even produce some limited-edition Certificates of Merit: For Great Valour In Holding One’s Tongue In The Face Of Gross Stupidity, For Standing Up To A Bully In An Ill-Fitting Pin-Striped Suit, and For Acknowledging The True Cost Of An Item Bought On Credit.

Monday, February 20, 2006

After I master crochet.....

Crochet Motif Appliqué: Flowers, Leaves and Snowflakes
(ISBN 4-579-1019-6)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Single, Double, Treble

I cannot crochet to save my life.

My paternal grandmother, however, was an expert, and never without hook in hand. I was a crafty kid, into knitting and cross-stitch and macramé, but I failed at crochet. Something about regulating tension with my left hand had me in a mess, and I was always dropping the little loop, or not knowing which other loop to draw it through. My grandmother tried to teach me, but I was too impatient, too headstrong, too young. In part, I think I thought of crochet as old, for old people. I’m ashamed to remember sitting next to my grandmother on her uncut moquette couch (the same couch I’m sitting on now) bristling as she held my hands in hers and tried to guide my clumsy movements. My story isn’t one of learning from a loved elder, but of rejecting what she had to teach me. The shame of this has relegated crochet to the list of things I don’t do: competitive sport, meat-eating, crochet.

I did appreciate it however. I chose a lacy cardigan pattern that my grandmother made for me, and I’m lucky to have inherited some of her impossibly complex work. Now and then, I’ve made attempts with a large hook and a ball of string, but I haven’t quite made it over the hump.

As you know, my mother is a crafting genius, but she doesn’t crochet either. She can, however, and her first and last attempt in the mid-‘60’s was this beautiful cardigan (above left). I’ve worn it myself for years, and it doesn’t fail to attract comments.

I’m such a crochet fan, in fact, that my wedding dress was crocheted (above right). Parking the car outside the San Francisco City Hall, a meter maid asked, Did you make that? My heart sank to admit: No, but I wish I had. It’s a wonderful dress, and my grandmother would have loved it.

My only hint to my back-tack II partner last year was the item Learn To Crochet on my To Do List. Doubly lucky, Jen is both a crocheter and a Melbourne girl, so the crafting kit she made up for me includes the most valuable thing of all to a fearful beginner: private lessons. This time, I’m going to shuck off all my prejudices and preconceptions. Amigurumi: here I come.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

1, 2, 3, 4

Four jobs:
1. dishwasher for reputed Scientologists
2. receptionist/profile writer for gay men’s dating service
3. TV watcher at press clipping agency
4. letterpress printing instructor

Four movies:
1. Rushmore (We saw this on our wedding day, and have watched it every anniversary since.)
2. Caro Diario
3. Amélie
4. The Last Days of Chez Nous

Four home cities:
1. San Francisco, CA (Mission District, Castro)
2. New York, NY (East Village, East Harlem, West Harlem)
3. Northeast Ohio (Cleveland, Oberlin)
4. Melbourne, Australia (as an adult: Fitzroy, Carlton, Richmond)

Four TV shows:
1. Six Feet Under
2. Newsroom
3. The Office
4. This American Life (not actually a TV show yet, but has the green light from Showtime.)

Four holiday places:
1. Lisbon/Madrid/Andorra
2. Magnetic Island
3. Cape Cod
4. Anglesea

Four foods:
1. Japanese squid pickle salad
2. Isaac’s Indian spiced cauliflower & potato
3. passionfruit
4. sourdough bread

Four daily sites:
1. Bloglines
2. Google
3. New York Times
4. A handful of my imaginary Blogroll friends

Four happy places:
1. In Once Upon a Tart, after shopping at Purl
2. Working in my studio
3. On Ballston beach, reading in my sun tent
4. Swing dancing

Tagging Almendro (if she wants to.)

Friday, February 10, 2006


For Melbourne sewers: Cutting Edge Fabric in Glenferrie Road, Malvern is having a 50% sale. I love this shop: their stock is all ex-designer remaindered bolts, and even during non-sale periods there are great bargains to be had. Not everything is reduced (the wools and waffle-weave remain full price) but there are some lovely cottons and linens available for mere spare change. I may see myself in new pyjama pants yet!

Cutting Edge Fabric
189 Glenferrie Road
Malvern, VIC 3144
Ph: 9500 1061

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

My So-Called Zakka Life

Ahem. For some reason, my Saturday post disappeared. In the interest of historical accuracy (and in the hope of further suggestions) I’ve re-posted, with apologies to those of you who’ve had the same post appear twice in your Bloglines or what have you. Let’s just move on, shall we?

This lifestyle of mine: disorganised desktop, disorganised laptop, no way to accurate predict location of keys, passport or pen is taking a toll. In the library recently, the title Order From Chaos: A 6-Step Plan for Organizing Yourself, Your Office and Your Life caught my eye. I read it, and learned a few important things that I’m trying to implement at work and home.

One of these things is the need to create a vacuum into which all your new organisational systems can take place. This wasn’t too hard at work: I opened a file drawer filled with defunct software, out-of-date manuals, appliance-less power cords, adapters and dust-clogged floppy disks and dumped it all in a box. Ditto a few in-box trays for people no longer working in the office. Voilà: a vacuum. At home, burdened by the fact that all this is my stuff, not the accumulation of a period before my time, the vacuum has been harder to create. I admit to making a critical mistake in thinking I could just go out and buy a vacuum. I have two half-built FIRA units from Ikea to attest to this. A filing cabinet would help, sure, but I’m a little fussy and am holding out for a wooden 1940’s one under $250. Friends and relatives commiserate, suggesting that everyone needs a junk room, but when your house is tiny and the junk room is a third of your total living space, something is clearly wrong.

So, as I often do in a crisis, I turned to my Japanese muses.

Back when I first started hanging out in Kinokuniya, I spent a long time perusing books that, as far as I can make out, are profiles of prominent designers/artists/craftspersons, their living spaces, the places they like to shop, food they like to cook and the beautiful things they surround themselves with. I think of these publications as guides to the gestalt of the zakka life.

Quickly, I decided that I couldn’t actually buy these books, given the expense and the fact that they don’t usually contain much in the way of information (unlike a knitting pattern, for example.) This kind of distinction was a necessary, albeit arbitrary, rule to cling to during the strong acquisitive urges that would frequently overcome me in the craft aisle at Kinokuniya.

The urges won out on two occasions. The first was Lotta’s Lifestyle (ISBN 4-07-234548-2), a profile of San Francisco-based Swedish designer Lotta Jansdotter. This is the one I’m most ashamed of, given that I lived in San Francisco at the time, with easy access to her store. It seemed almost pathologically voyeuristic to own this book, given the pleasure I got out of knowing that we shopped at the same grocery store and having strong suspicions about the exact location of her apartment building. This book follows a formula that I associate with the genre:

– Lotta, the person
– Lotta’s work
– Lotta’s home
– Where Lotta shops
– What Lotta cooks
– Where she travels and
– What she wears.

Reading this book (as much as one can without Japanese), a statement made by illustrator J.otto Seibold comes to mind: “Everyone is famous in Japan.”

I e-mailed Lotta about the envelope skirt, which I love. It was a one-off, made for an exhibition.

My other lifestyle fix comes from Mariko Hirasawa, who may be a fashion designer. Or perhaps she’s an illustrator? Her book Simple Smile (ISBN 4-87303-338-1) includes one pattern for this lovely apron, which I post here as inspiration for Tie-One On participants.

Mariko has a green thumb, and likes picnics. Her shopping inspirations concentrate on traditional artisans: ceramicists, wood turners, basket makers. She likes glass, autumn and natural bristle brushes. I very much doubt she has any need for a book that suggests this train on thought when confronted by a piece of paper:

Do I need it?
Where does it live?
Where do it’s buddies live?
How will I use it?
It is unrecognised trash – throw it away now!

You never know: perhaps the solution to my problem front room is to pay a Japanese stylist to come in for an afternoon and make of it what they will. My fear, however, is what happened on an American home make-over show I saw once: instead of attempting to work with what they had, the TV crew decided to completely tear down the place and re-build it from the ground up.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

I've done it again

Dear friends,

For ten years, I've failed to keep on top of e-mail, letting your mail languish in my inbox, convinced I'll find the time to respond with a "real" letter. It's finally dawned on me that e-mail is a completely separate beast, suited only to a paragraph or two, sent off in a timely fashion. Letters deserve to be written on actual paper, with a pen, and stuffed into an envelope with a stamp affixed. Those of you who live and work in the real world accepted this years ago, I know. My only excuse is years spent wandering in the .edu wasteland, and a general lack of technological curiosity post-1950. I like using Eudora 3.0. So what that it came out in 1995?

This realisation has come about in the midst of a data crisis, precipitated by this year's purchase of a digital camera. When I upgraded to my present laptop in 2001, it appeared that I'd bought the personal computer world's version of a 10,000 square-foot loft with freight elevator: oodles and oodles of space, storage for years and years of intellectual product. As it turns out, the last few months have revealed that cavernous space as nothing more than a well-stuffed sock drawer. I persisted, ready to accommodate to my less-salubrious circumstances, and continued to stuff socks into the drawer, until last week, when it became clear (even to me) that not a single extra sock could be stuffed inside. In fact, not only could I not add another sock, it was now also impossible to remove a sock. Things were that bad.

An intervention was had. Certain useless copies of software from the early '90's were thrown in the trash, and it was discovered that with a little wriggle room in the drawer, the external hard drive does indeed work. (Apologies to technical services people at LaCie.) I am now looking at the (to me) over-designed interface of OSX. Yes, things are a little better. No, I don't actually LIKE it, but oh well, I'll adjust.

All of this is to explain why I've decided to post some of my mostly banal snapshots over at Given that we are still a dial-up family, this seemed an easier way to share photos that otherwise might never leave my hard drive. I've also started to put an electronic address book together, my first ever, which might relieve some of the pressure on my overstuffed actual one, the one held together under pressure with elastic bands. To this end, I'd appreciate it if you could send me an e-mail with your current address, phone, e-mail, birthdate and children's birthdates. No need to say hello if you don't have time: just the facts. You'll have my undying gratitude, and I hope you'll accept my apologies if you haven't heard from me in some time. I'm slowly coming to terms with the twenty-first century.

c. x

I sent this e-mail to friends on 24 October 2004. More than a year ago. So why, WHY, am I back in this EXACT PLACE? Worse, even. I’ve now colonized my husband’s G5 and even that is packed to the gills with digital photos. When I tried to burn backup DVDs this morning, I discovered that there’s no longer enough room on the start-up disk to burn either a CD or DVD. And my LaCie drive, the exact same one mentioned in the e-mail above, is on the fritz again, and is, I must say, a temperamental piece of crap. One lies awake at night wondering why one continues to entrust one’s whole digital life to its fragile sensibilities. A gentle knock to the Firewire cable? Kaput. Plugging the Firewire cable in after powering up the drive? No go. Powering up the drive then plugging in the cable? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

I have taken this as an opportunity to learn and grow. I did not scream. (At least, not until today.) I know now about optimizing hard disks. And repairing permissions. I’ve enlisted DiskWarrior. But I’m still a sniveling wreck, wishing I was one of those lady bloggers with a computer programmer husband on-site.

If anyone, ANYONE, can recommend backup software and/or a photo archive program, I would be most grateful. I swore I’d never use this blog to whine about my technical inadequacies, but look: I’m drowning here. And I have new readers! (Thanks Jane! Thanks Ben!) By now, I see you all backing away slowly, eyebrows raised, trying not to attract the attention of the crazy lady. COME BACK PEOPLE! I’ve nearly finished the cutest baby cardigan! I’d show it to you if I could only download the goddamn *!^#%! ARGHHH!