Monday, January 31, 2005

(I started writing this Sunday night - hence the date - worked all day yesterday in store and have only finished writing this self-indulgent episode today, February 1st.)

I'm back from Seattle. First read my emails and my daughter's blog. A coincidence or not. I too was thinking about hair - even spoke about it with Helen when we were in Seattle. I keep having my hair cut, thinking that luck will win and I will look like I imagine I can look. Sexy with a dash of savoir faire. It never happens. No matter the cut, I am just me with shorter hair.

Another coincidence? We always take a lot of pictures at market. It's important to try the sample clothes on to see what they look like on a body. I have a couple dozen pictures of me in summer fashion and I can barely stand to look at them. I look tired, old, "ugly" to use Gill's word - not the sparkly woman I sometimes feel.

But the outside never matches the inside. Especially as time passes. Or is this the case? I've heard Kate and Gill talk about the transformative power of hair cuts. What are we seeking? A new person? "Life is tough and then you die" is what my young friend Maria used to say. I guess I better speak for myself. I wonder if I'm trying to take a shortcut thinking the outside will change the inside. A new haircut. A new outfit. A new self-assured me. I should know better. It's the inside that informs the outside. (I cropped the photos from the show - took my head off the really bad ones, I am embarrassed to admit.)

The store is doing well. Walter is calling me a genius because of my idea for a resort section that's doing well. What a joke but I lap it up. Buying clothes for others is still a guessing game. I side on caution but I'm getting better at guessing. What do people want, what will people pay to own something beautiful or unusual? I think of the poem by Rudyard Kipling "If" for some reason: "If you can make one heap of all your winnings/ And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,/ And lose, and start again at your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss".

My thoughts are rambling. I'm thinking here that Kipling is wrong, that it takes nerve to speak about "your loss". (That's why I admire Gill and her courage to tell her ugly feelings. And Kate to write her honest truths about her body, marriage, and motherhood. And... I hesitate here... I could continue with more names... I am realizing that I have more than a few friends who are willing to speak of themselves openly, of their losses and gains.)

This job of mine that earns me a pittance really - not enough to live on - is a game of pitch-and-toss, a guessing game, but I enjoy the play, the mapping out of seasons and colour, the surprise when a box arrives, the personalities of women shoppers and their response to the clothes - more than interesting and good material for a story or two.

I am feeling a little overwhelmed and not able to follow any thought through to conclusion so I will start the orders, clear away some of my load, and perhaps take a walk by the water to calm myself and clear my head.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I am still experiencing that anxious feeling that I will never accomplish all that must be done before I leave for Toronto on the 18th of February. But I'm breathing a little easier after several conversations and a gift of an idea a customer gave me Tuesday when I worked all day.

First thing in the morning, she entered and said that last weekend, she and her husband went to Seattle by train. They had a leisurely meal with wine in the diningcar and arrived refreshed. My head started swimming. I must return to Seattle today to visit market and see a slew of clothing lines that weren't in Los Angeles. Helen is coming with me again and we were going to share the driving. But if we go by train, we can review what we've already seen in LA, enjoy a leisurely meal, read, and arrive in time to catch a good night's sleep (hopefully) before our appointments begin Friday morning. I booked rail and bus tickets for us online (unfortunately the return train - one a day - doesn't work for us and I don't mind buses) but I feel that I've been given the gift of time to relax and enjoy the journey.

I have also decided to take 48 hours for my writing sometime, before my Toronto departure, away from all. I will probably go to Whistler because it is beautiful, quiet, and my sister owns a house there that she's always begging me to use.

Today, I will pack my bag, visit the store, do a few more orders, and catch a train. I love it. I feel as if I am in Europe where train travel is always an adventure.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I get this heavy guilty feeling when I have not kept up with my online journal. I get it again when I forget about my personal journal. And when I do no writing at all, I feel a mess, a failure. This is silly, I tell myself. Lighten up. Enjoy this life. Before you know it, it will be over.

And so time passes. I wonder as I sit in my little house, after two sleepless or sporadic sleeping nights (under a full moon) if it's possible to be enjoying life and not know that one is enjoying oneself. For I have had moments in the past week when I've sat and felt strangely content, lucky for the life I've been given or rather for the one I've helped create.

This reminds me of talks with my plums about the need to make conscious decisions about what one is doing for a living, who one chooses to spend time with, what one wants to create in regards to writing. The idea is not to plod along and simply react to what falls in front of one. Groan.

I am preoccupied with the issue of life and art. Life gets in the way all the time and I wonder if I am not cut out for a writing life, if I will ever create anything because I let the small detail of everyday life consume me - me and my one-baby-step-at-a-time philosophy. I just recalled a scene from France. I am there for the first time and Susan knocks at my door. She introduces herself and leaves. The next I hear from her is in the form of a letter. No small talk. She gets to the heart of the matter. She has read a book. She has had a dream. She would like my thoughts on both. (And so our friendship began.)

She had just finished Michael Frayn's "The Trick of It" and saw a parallel to her life. A younger man marries an older woman. She is a famous writer. He had spent his life researching her work, lecturing about it, and was attempting a book. After their marriage, he writes: " To write a book you have to be obssessive. You have to be prepared to destroy everything around you. As she is. As I am not." This is what he says but what he does is try to destroy her life and self-confidence. If I remember correctly, he almost does.

Why am I remembering this now? I have slowed down writing my novel. I am not obssessed with it. No matter that it sits in the back of my brain. I want to get at it but there isn't time. No matter that I'm enjoying - or sort of - writing orders. No matter that I am enjoying conversation. No matter? I am not doing the one thing that I want to do. Is this true? No. I want to have time with friends. I want conversation. I want to be finished with the necessary chores - like store orders - like the year's accounts. I want them done so I can attempt a book with clear conscience. But there will always be something that needs done.

Again, I think I need a schedule. Well make one, I scream at myself. I will try. But this Thursday night, I leave for Seattle for three days...

Friday, January 21, 2005

Dancing Pose

Dancing Pose
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

I thought I'd have lots of time to tell about Los Angeles and the sights we saw but there simply isn't enough hours in the day to do what I must do. I have been sleeping long hours - unusual for me - and catching up with my work in the store. I did unpack my bags last night and do some editing but my list of chores continues to grow. So I will keep this brief.

The last place I thought I'd find myself is buying for a retail store. I've never, unlike my daughter, been that fashion conscious. I like beautiful things, yes, but it has never been a priority so what am I doing spending so much time at world fairs exploring what's new and "in"? And why, despite the exhausting work, am I enjoying myself? Shouldn't I be expending all my energy on my true love - writing?

As I walked home from the store yesterday in the pouring rain, soaked to skin, I decided I must find me some discipline so I can enjoy both activities. I can not rush through either. When I sit and write, I lose track of time. When I am buying clothes for the store, I lose myself as well. What am I to do?

I'd like to describe the LA market in detail where Helen and I visited two tall buildings - 13 floors in each - full of colour and design - full of eager reps wanting to sell to us. Rob said this morning that LA is a surface city. Perhaps but I'm not so sure after this visit. We met my niece and her fiance for dinner
one night and she said that she loves LA - especially the weather which was glorious. (Helen and I sat out in the sun, walked miles under its warmth, and felt so good.) There is so much to see and although we wanted to visit an art gallery or two, we found that we didn't have the time this time. And a person can only take so much visual stimulation.

But having Helen along eased the work load and she is such a joyous person, I became lighter. Our first full day, first thing in the morning, we visited the URU showroom and when the beautiful Ken asked whether we'd like coffee or champagne, Helen immediately responded "Well that's a no-brainer" so we started the day with bubbly and it set the mood for the day. Note my jovial mood, at the second showroom we visited.

Whining about LA
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

And so the mood of the day was set. We moved on to another showroom, and were offered a Chinese lunch with another favourite rep, Neetu Malik.

We finished the day at a runway fashion show - the first I've seen where tall painfully thin, young young women walked like robots, gazing into space. There were gifts, free wine and appetizers, and a surprise for me at the end of the show. I won a 250 USD shopping spree at a skinny girl store (and I was able to find an outfit.)

To end a perfect day, this was the evening that we went out with my niece, Sarah, and her true love, Rene. They are lovely together and thoughtfully took us to a French restaurant where we ate delicious food, drank delicious wine, and talked and talked as we had years to catch up on.

Did I say I was going to keep this brief? I must run. Hopefully I'll find time to tell more of our adventure in the next few days.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

I returned from Los Angeles late last night, head full of ideas, unlike Rob's head that is full of cold. The trip was exhausting - a lot to absorb - yet full of laughter because my friend Helen accompanied me.

This morning I received two letters from a friend. One an edit of a story of mine; the other a request for an edit of a story of hers. My head was overflowing and though I wanted to sit down right away and work at writing, I had a visit from two young women, Sarah Cheevers who is a fine writer and composer and her friend. We must have talked several hours. (I remind myself of the value of conversation.)

After they left, I talked to Gill on the telephone and then went to the store and worked three hours. By the time I returned home, I was beyond thought so I made a bowl of popcorn and sat and watched Merchant of Venice. Tomorrow hopefully I will feel up to unpacking my bags, answering emails, editing stories, sorting orders, and returning to the store to do some paper work. If there is time, I will write a blog about my L.A. adventure.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Tomorrow morning I head to Los Angeles with Helen and I've been busy preparing as I must rearrange store tonight to include a new resort area. I love display so I'm looking forward to this evening but I will be happier "playing" if all is washed, sorted, packed, ready for our 6 a.m. departure. (Brendan has agreed to drive us, kind person that he is.)

I read the following passage in "Stravinsky's Lunch" and I copied it into my journal as I sometimes get too entwined in betrayal issues and my writing suffers:

"When Rilke wrote of the 'ancient enmity between our daily life and the great work' he was gesturing... to this harder truth that lies deeper down, below the difficulties... of houses, and money, and other people... he also meant that there is... resistance, to the plunge into art... for it demands that we descend into that part of ourselves that is not encumbered by the regard of others; the part of the self that can live, and work, and paint [write], without the vanity of being seen."

This week has been one of vanities.

On Monday I had my hair cut.

On Tuesday, I dyed curtains "bordeaux" for colour and mood (they became not quite what i intended.)

On Wednesday, I bought a pair of colourful pants from store for Los Angeles trip.

Today, I picked up my new eye glasses (purple and pink, mon dieu.)

Amid this surface activity, I did a number of small banal chores like waiting for the dishwasher repairman. But I did play with a short short story yesterday and today.

I will take some writing in my suitcase. I am not sure if this is a time of procrastination or fermentation. I hope the latter.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

My daughter in her blog "Confessions of a Young Woman" questions the film "Closer" - "closer to what?" "[I]n a film that tried so hard for raw emotion and presenting the complexities of relationships... good vocals and strong lyrics prove to be more powerful.
"And so it is. Like many graduates I'm wondering what the hell to do with myself."

Strange (or is it?) I'm wondering the same thing. And I wish for what I've wished a thousand times, that I were smarter, wiser so I could reassure her. (Thank the heavens for my friend Kate who commented on this blog.)

I am trying to write a novel and me, a lover of books, have few ideas about how to structure it. At the moment, I am reading "Stravinsky's Lunch" and in it, Druisilla Modjeska quotes Virginia Woolf: "Be truthful... and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting." The 16,000 words I've written so far of my novel are all true or as true as my memory allows (though I plan to take it into the fictive realm.) And my writing group applaud my "Really Shitty First Draft" and urge me to continue.

Last night I spoke to my longest friend on this earth and she tells me, of my blog, "good writing" and I groan as I have felt constipated in my writing since I returned from England.

Perhaps it is because I've reached a low point in my telling my story. I can't remember the sequence of events so I've been re-reading old journals and what I read doesn't always please me. I was struggling with some of the same issues fifteen years ago. I feel like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day". I have to keep trying new ways, until I get my life right, then I can move on. Whatever that means. But I think this book in my belly may help. So I will persevere.

Drusilla Modjeska speaks of Stella Bowen's autobiography as a conversation piece. "It is a conversation with all the people she ate lunches with. It is a conversation with her long dead mother; with Ford Madox Ford, with whom she'd had other late night talks; with Julie [her daughter] and her young friends who were being diverted into the army. Most of all it is a conversation with her readers. As much as an account of her life, it is an account, even a chronology, of an escape from fixed positions, those false gods that trap us."

Modjeska believes that in writing this book and her belief in conversations - the subject of many of her paintings - Bowen was able to find a way to live her life - "with intensity and truth." This is what I want.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Morning Snow

Morning Snow
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

The Plums and I did not meet this morning because of snow, glorious snow and so we all wrote about the weather in our respective homes and emailed each other. I will type my edited ramblings.

I am out in my little house in the garden looking out at snow. The cherry tree's branches, directly outside my window, are ladened with two or three inches of white - long stretches, resembling deserted trains in some railway graveyard. The electricity flickers on and off. What is it about this cold white stuff that makes me happy? Its stillness? The world seems quieter at the moment and though I hear traffic labouring in the distant, I tune it out.

I imagine I am in a nature park where all the green is now white, dripping like frosting on a cake. To me, snow looks like nugget or white chocolate, candy, a treat. Although I was raised in the east where snow is more common, I have always loved how it transforms the world. I recall a photograph of myself at thirteen, snowball in hand, cavorting knee-deep with my friends, Candy Notman and Tina Kopel. I remember lying on a bed of snow in France, flapping my arms and legs, making a snow angel to the wonderment of a French friend. I sit here now, thoughts roaming, breathing deeply, and feel quietly content. (Is this drivel? I'm lousy at description.)

I hope I can write, I think, as I sit here writing. The last few days I have seen a lot of my parents. On Tuesday I visited with them after seeing Gill off. On Wednesday, I took them out to lunch. On Thursday night - their last day in town - they were to come here for dinner but were afraid of the snow so I braved the elements, met my two sons downtown at a coffee shop, stopped and picked up a feast at Memphis Blues, parked down the hill from my sister's house where my parents have been staying, and walked up the slippery road, stopping once so Mike could help a poor damsel get her car upstuck. We had a nice quiet dinner. My boys/men overwhelmed me with their attentiveness and kindness to their grandparents. (When they approached me in the coffee shop, I looked up - they are both near six feet in height - and all I could think is "god, they're good-looking". I don't remember them turning into men. Although different in a hundred ways, they are both gentle, intelligent, creative. How did I luck out and have three such amazing progeny - Rob, too?)

When I returned home that night, the strangest thing happened. I was reading Kate's online journal and suddenly stars started dancing in my eyes - little sparks - and I couldn't focus so I went inside and turned on the television. Agnes of God was playing but I couldn't clear my eyes to see the screen. Everything was a blur. I called Rob and he gave me some drops which helped a little. The next day, I could see again but the thought of losing my eyesight scared me. (I did drop in at the lens shop where they're making my new glasses and the woman said that if happens again I should see a doctor. I will.)

I was talking to Marlene this morning who was cursing the snow so, that I couldn't help laughing - told her to go out and build a snow fort for exercise - and she suggested I change the title of "shitty". In her mind, it is an unkind title for my brain child but something in me likes its rugged, earthy, unsavouriness. I really must get writing.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Sometime during the night it started snowing and it continues. The ground and trees have a layer of white. I love the look of snow, how it can transfer my world into something still and beautiful. Even the mess of brambles outside my small house window look lovely.

Rob may not be so enthusiastic. He had a hard time getting out of our steep driveway. His van nearly slipped over the edge. I threw a coat over my pjs and went out to the road and gave him a signal that the street was clear and in one run, he made it - off to work on his second day back.

I am the only one at home for the first time in weeks. Gill left at 6 am on Tuesday morning. I drove her to the airport. There were no tears but when I returned home, the house felt empty without her. Rob said he felt an ache driving home when he remembered she wouldn't be there. She slipped so beautifully back into our lives and now she is gone again. All this is as it should be. I know she loves her Toronto life but still I miss my wise willowy beauty.

My niece, sweet Emily is in Maui and doesn't return until Monday. There is so much to do in the house and I'm determined to clear out all the useless items that take up space. Yesterday before I took my mum and dad out for lunch, I dropped a load of stuff off at Value Village.

The snow flakes are becoming larger. My mum and dad are supposed to come to dinner, their last night in town. I doubt they will be able to make it. I told Brendan, before he left for work, that he and Mike may have to meet me downtown and we'll take dinner to them.

Now, I will try to write some pages of my novel.

Snow House
Originally uploaded by Barbara Y.

Monday, January 03, 2005

I have hesitated writing a blog for this new year because I wanted to start brilliantly and I find that I have given myself an impossible assignment. The worst thing that a writer can do is to try to write well.

The last few days have been quiet though busy. I met with my Plums on January lst at 9:30 a.m. and we began, as we always do, with a quick write, from the words "This year..." and what I wrote disappointed me. (I expect the world from myself.)

I wrote: "This year, I want to venture out into the cold... I don't want to twist my writing into themes that bore me, into something for someone else. The other night at dinner, my Dad asked me to write his story. He would provide the characters and plot. I was to tell his tale. I told him to write his own story in a peaved, childish voice. Or was it arrogant? Afterwards, I though myself a fool. Perhaps I had missed an opportunity to know the old man better. I could have listened, could have written down his ideas.... I still can. He doesn't leave until the 9th of January. I don't want to regret not having listened."

We all wrote for fifteen minutes and then read. For the next hour, we wrote on whatever we wanted. I continued or began again with "this year": "This year, I will steal from Vaughan. I will try not to change anything - as if I could - I will observe and note, perhaps even accept my shadow. I will read "Romancing the Shadow" and romance mine. I will try my damnest not to apologize for her tirades... I will steal from James Joyce: "I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use - silence, exile and cunning."

If I allow myself to dream, I dream of writing in Paris. The city excites me. Every time I've been there, wandering by myself, I feel like a writer. I am full of ideas and sit wherever and record my thoughts. In this city, there is always a park bench, a small cafe, a platform by the Seine, where one can take the weight off one's feet and write or read. Everyone appears to be carrying a book of some sort. I love this city.

Perhaps some day, I will be able to live this dream. In the meanwhile I must make money.

So after our writing meeting, I went to the store and worked six hours straight on display. My friend Helen joined me, brought me lunch, and then stayed to help. While she took down the holly and swept and cleaned, I rearranged the whole store. I have to watch myself here. I find myself filling in the gaps for others. I am supposed to be only buying but if what I've so carefully bought is not displayed well, no one will buy. So I do it. And more.

Yesterday I sent two stories out for the hell of it. I doubt they will be published. What I wonder on my gloomy days is "if I am as good a writer as people tell me I am, why isn't someone in the publishing world begging me for stories? What hoops do I have to jump through to become noticed?"

My friend Kate has shown me this past year - with her unbelievable output and successes - that I have to keep sending everything and anything to wherever, that I am not industrious enough. (But I want to write a novel, I scream. This year is to be dedicated to this dream.)

I had two long lovely telephone conversations yesterday. One with Kate in which we made plans to meet either in Germany or France this year and one with my sister-in-law Kathy who I've hardly talked to in the past few years. It was good catching up with her, good to hear that her life is changing through her own efforts, good to hear her excitement. I've missed her.

Today is Gill's last day at home. We will spend as much time as possible together.

So sigh, my first entry of the new year is written. Kate tells me that I must continue writing these damn entries so she can keep up with my life. I will try.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

It's the last night of the year. An hour ago, I sat down by the water, watching the sun set. At the moment, I have artichokes simmering on the stove. Rob and I have agreed to have a quiet New Year's eve at home, eating good food, drinking good wine, and watching a film. I don't want to do anything fancy or exciting. I may stay up long enough to welcome in the new year. I may not.

This new year,
I hope to grow more content and yet be
more verbal
more eloquent on paper
more sure of myself.

I want my novel to take on a shape that pleases me,
that helps me forge ahead.

Looking through my journals this morning I found a quote by Simone de Beauvoir who has influenced me since I was in my teens:

"On the day when it is possible for women to love not in her weakness but in strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself - on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not a mortal danger."

I wish to love this way.

Over the holidays, I read a sweet book by Helen Humphries called "The Lost Garden" inspired by her father's and grandfather's lives. The novel takes place in England during WW1, around the time that Virginia Woolf decided to end her life. Woolf's death and her novel "To the LIghthouse" plus several of Tennyson's poems from "In Memoriam" are important to the tale and kept me reading to its sad conclusion.

It grows darker. I must attend to the prawns.

Happy New Year.