Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Workin' it 9 to 5, Part III:
The Blanket Truth




I love hip hop. There are many genres of music out there that I like, but sometimes I just wanna bump up on my Rama, and only a hip hop beat will do it for me. Did you know that when lyrics are recorded backwards in a song there's have a name for it? It's called backmasking! Reminds of a passage I was reading just yesterday, in Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird", on how the author finally came to know that the "wire thing" that covers all champagne corks is called the "wire hood". (Part Three: HELP ALONG THE WAY - Calling Around, p. 145)

On the process of writing and research, she wrote that part of being a writer is a willingness to go where that process wanders and flows, pushing or pulling you along with it all the while.
The truth is that there are simply going to be times when you can't go forward in your work until you find out something about the place you grew up, when it was still a railroad town, or what the early stages of shingles are like, or what your character would actually experience the first week of beauty school. So figure out who would have this information and give that person a call. It's best if you can think of someone who's witty and articulate, so you can steal all of his or her material. Also, of course, it's just more interesting to be on the phone with someone who's sort of keen. But these qualities are not absolutely necessary, because you may just be looking for one piece of information, or even just one word, and you do not need a whole lot of background or humor to go with it. And it may also turn out that in searching for this one bit of information, something else will turn up that you absolutely could not have know would be out there waiting for you.
For Anne, it's wine hoods. For me, it's backmasking. And, like Anne, I never might've thought I'd actually be able to use that little tidbit of information, until just now. Backmasking...ah.

The more permutations of the creative process I explore and encounter, whether design, writing, painting, drawing, photography, music, sewing, jewellery, gardening, et al, etc...the more I see they're all the same and my creative world grows ever wider and more expansive. It makes me wonder: is it like that in life too? Maybe this is what Scott is talking about when he says, "It's all the octopus." Maybe this is what Bernard meant when he said, "It's all the blanket."


In closing,





Good karma to you all.

Workin' it 9 to 5, Part II:
My messy desk


Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind. All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.

- Bill Holm, "August in Waterton, Alberta"

The client that I fired came over yesterday to pick up the materials I bought that she'd still like to use. It's nice to have closure to that project finally.

After I let her wedding go, I felt a profound sense of loss. Loss for all the time spent on a project that I wouldn't be seeing to fruition, and for all the time spent on that project that could've been spent in the studio, or writing, or on any other creative project significantly less stressful and infinitely more satisfying. Hundreds of hours, amounting to a lesson learned. And though I told myself that knowing when to quit is a valuable skill, I still found myself angry and frustrated in front of the paint cans at Home Depot and on the phone to my friend Scott (several times). Thanks, Rama and Scott, for being there.

I suppose there was something in me, that I've lived with for so long I couldn't have known I learned it somewhere, that equated giving up or letting go to failure. And who knows? Maybe that's true. And yet now, now that it's over and all the loose ends are tied up, I feel relieved and free. And at peace.

How things change.

Workin' it 9 to 5, Part I:
OXO lessons


I received my new peeler in the mail today! Everything was perfect, right down to the red felt in Rachel's note and the textured ink on the OXO stationery.


But I was already a fan of OXO before this all started, so while any gift is a wonderful thing to receive in the mail, what this little adventure has shown me is the importance of branding and the impact that the customer experience has on the success of a company.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Rise,
The Fall
and The Neverending Story:
A musical and philosophical
exploration in three parts

I wrote OXO last night, when the stifling air per a storm-that-never-came begat a thirst for nostalgia and cantaloupe.
Dear good people at Oxo,

I first fell in love with you over your Oxo Steel Swivel Peeler, which I bought over 5 years ago when I first moved out on my own and suddenly needed kitchen implements.

I admit, 5 years later, the blade isn't as sharp as it used to be and though I haven't had a lot of luck finding replacement blades up here in Canada, I can't bring myself to throw it away and buy a new one. Something about it's firm yet squishy utility begs me to hold onto it just a little longer.

I also own a Steel can opener, whisk, ice cream scoop and lemon zester. I love them all, though perhaps the lemon zester just a little less. My weak wrists necessitate me keeping a death grip on my lemon with my left hand, while my right hand forms a fist around the zester's handle, usually with my thumb up near the zesting part for guidance. Perhaps if you rotated the zesting part a quarter turn it would work better? Or maybe it would just work better for me.

The whisk is the best whisk I've ever used, bar none, and I've worked in several commercial kitchens. Holding it in my hand, I can't believe no one had thought of it's design before you geniuses (no exaggeration). And while its turgid profile does lend itself to many a dirty kitchen joke from my dinner guests, well, that just adds to the joy of using it.

Accolades aside, I'm writing this e-mail to you as a child of Filipino immigrant parents longing for a taste of the old country in a hot Canadian summer.

When I was child living with my parents, my mom would sometimes make me a drink with shredded cantaloupe, milk or water and a bit of sugar. Very simple and wonderfully refreshing. Mom used a tool she brought here from the Philippines and available at some Filipino markets, like the one on the left in the top picture of this page.


Melon shredder, Market Manila

While it worked well enough for it's purpose, I couldn't help noticing how she had to periodically adjust and readjust the loops, which would be pushed out of alignment by the force of drawing them against firm cantaloupe flesh. Now, thinking about your wonderful zester (and my mom's developing arthritis): would you consider making a bigger version? Perhaps with 3/8" sized holes?

Though I didn't think it possible, I just might love you even more than I did before.


My thanks,
Christina

They wrote me back! I got an e-mail from Rachel Cooper, a marketing assistant for OXO today.
Hi Christina,

Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback on all your OXO products! We design our products with the consumer’s needs in mind, and are always happy to hear when we have hit the mark. We are glad that you are enjoying all of our tools, and putting them to good use in the kitchen.

Understandably, the blades of your Peeler will dull over time and therefore will not work as well as when you first bought it. We’re sorry that you were unable to find a Replacement Blade, but have no fear- as all our products have a lifetime Satisfaction Guarantee. We would love to send you a new SteeL Swivel Peeler, free of charge. Just let me know if you would like me to use the address provided as the shipping address.

We always appreciate suggestions for products from consumers, and take all your comments into consideration. I am forwarding your email (and the link) to our Product Managers to take a look at and consider. Please let us know if you have any further questions or suggestions for our products. We appreciate all your positive feedback and support and are happy to be a part of your kitchen.

Thanks,
Rachel Cooper
Marketing Assistant

I send out these sorts of e-mails from time to time, but I never expect anyone to write me back. I tend to assume large corporations with worldwide distribution, like OXO, don't actually have time for that sort of thing. Well, Rachel, thanks for proving me wrong. And now I get a free swivel peeler! I'll add it to our collection.

(That's the swivel peeler in the middle. edit: Missing is the spatula, pardon...turner that I found hiding in the dish drainer later this evening.)

I had the biggest, silliest grin on my face and was looking for music to play as I wrote this blog when I glanced out the door to the balcony and noticed a police van pulling up to a house across the alley. We live very close to downtown, so I figured maybe someone had "fallen asleep" behind someone's garage. Instead, they walked over to a van that's been parked in one of the driveways, knocked on the windows and spoke at length with the woman who came out from inside.

(Cue Beethoven's 7th Symphony, 2nd Movement - allegretto.)


Trailer for The Fall.

For the last few months, a couple has been living out of a pale yellow van, parked in the driveway of a house across the alley. At times we wanted to call the police, but we figured everyone has to live somewhere, and as long as they weren't scattering our garbage everywhere, or drinking in our driveway (which is another story for another blog entry), well, who were we to judge them. Sometimes, when Aaron and I were gardening in the back yard late into the evening, we'd see the man and woman walking together through the alley and they'd say hello and we'd say hello and everyone would smile and it would be nice. We knew/know nothing about them or their lives or how they came to be in the place they were and, if anything, they probably needed our compassion. And a few cans.

But I can't quite express the relief I felt seeing that van pull out of the driveway this afternoon, and how different the alley feels not having a rusted old van, with bed sheets, clothes and towels lain atop its roof and across its hood, parked in one of the driveways. As much as my heart feels compassion for people in difficult circumstances, it also feels a nearly intolerable frustration at seeing the heaps of food containers, clothes, rags, and general near-domestic detritus that van barfed all over that driveway.

Wherever they are, I sincerely hope their circumstances work out for the better. Maybe someday, with a bit more life experience, I can offer them something more than a smile and hello.

Thankfully, Aaron and I had an excellent evening together. When he came home from work, we went out for a bike ride, and then we took care of some errands before an evening of snuggling and a few episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Overall, this day has been really quite wonderful.

Ah, the never ending human drama. I'll leave you with this video of Architecture in Helsinki's "Do the whirlwind".

Monday, June 15, 2009

Memoir: I think I'm in love
and it makes me kinda nervous
to say so



I love utility. And I especially love the rusty and decrepit kind of utility in these old industrial objects at Urban Remains Chicago. My God, let me build a house with this stuff and I'll ascend to heaven the day after it's complete.

I think it has something to do with my Dad being a pipefitter, and later an electrician, as I was growing up. Periodically, we'd all go see him in his workshop and there was something so wonderful and mysterious about all the tools I couldn't figure out a use for, shiny metal screwnutbolt things, coloured wires, and well worn, if dusty, workbenches, stools and chairs.

He has an old oak office chair, very much like this one but with four legs, languishing in his garage, covered in paint spots and dirt, that he rescued from one of the places he worked for before it shut down. I lust for it. Years and years ago, when we had a garage sale, the first person to walk up the driveway poked around the garage for a few minutes and offered Dad $200 for the chair. And he said no (!), and that it wasn't for sale. Dad wasn't the happiest person, growing up, but he seemed to take a special joy in his work and in personal achievement. Perhaps that chair has meaning for him.

More than anyone I've ever known, Dad taught me to see beauty in the usefulness of something, which I suppose is why I'm so attracted to barns, workshops, warehouses, tools, metals, wood and glass. While Mom gave me an appreciation for style and flash, Dad made sure it was grounded in function and craftsmanship.

Aaron's respect for the balance between utility and aesthetics is one thing that really really really attracted me to him. And like me, he learned those concepts from his parents. Though, unlike me, he learned them on their land in the forest in Peace River.

I'm reminded of this quote from William Morris,
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
The more I think about these things the more I understand: all these objects I lust after...all these projects I do...they're always about creating my happy-er place.

What's your happy place?

Blue walls smiling at me.
Nothing but blue walls
do I see.


Ah! I love my office. And now, after a long absence from writing, I have returned, stronger, faster, more comfortable and more beautiful than ever.

I fired a client for the first time last week. And you know, I am so happy to have gone through the experience. I know myself better, and I learned to say "no". It's an important skill to learn. Period.

So...a little catch-up.

I moved my "office" from my kitchen to a former bedroom, and now instead of hunching in a chair that's too tall over a keyboard that's too short, I have my very comfortable vintage black David Rowland 40/4 office chair (thanks Dad!), so named because you can stack 40 of them into 4 square feet of space, in which to lounge as I lay bare this lifestyle lexicon. Now, I have a balcony to retire to and a verdant back yard to look onto when the inspiration leaves me and I'm a little pile of tropical frustration. Now, I have more art on the walls. Ah!

The two paintings you see above were found at different times in different thrift stores. I bought the elk on the left, along with several other vintage landscape paintings, for a project Aaron and I did for the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation. I love how it manages to be so kitsch and majestic and Canadiana all at once. I was considering giving it away to a fellow artist who asked to have the landscape paintings once we were finished with them, but it's just so je ne sais quoi for me that I couldn't let it go. Maybe it has something to do with my Dad. He loves elk, and I like hearing him say "Elk". One of those "through leaves" experiences, I guess (see footnote).

When I saw the moose on the right and recognised the matching frame, I was on that thing like kittens to a yarn ball. I was telling Aaron last night, after hanging the two pictures, that the moose reminded me of him and I said something along the lines of "a big, strong animal alone in the Canadian wilderness". (Laugh if you must, but it came out much cuter and more romantic at the time.) It's interesting to me how I'd choose to hang it next to the elk that reminds me of my Dad. My two big, strong animals...

I almost regret we will not be showing pictures of our home until it is done, including the office, as we are hiring a professional photographer with the intention of publishing it in Canadian House and Home, Elle Decor, Style at Home, or some other decorating magazine, and perhaps also a blog like Apartment Therapy or Design Sponge (check out this gorgeous sneak peak). When that happens, I'll let you know. Within a year or two.

In the works right now are a website for ID Bohemia, a show and sale featuring curated art from my art school days and jewelry I've been making, and a wedding in September.

Not too much more to write today, as nearly everything is in transition. I just wanted to say I'm working, and I'm in love with life."

--
footnote:
In Easy Living, Terence Conran writes:

Vita Sackville-West, in a talk broadcast on BBC radio in 1950, identified a whole range of insignificant, essentially domestic pleasures that everyone has experienced from tie to time but hardly ever remarks upon. In the family shorthand, which gave the talk its title, these brief moments of satisfaction were collectively termed "through leaves", after the "small but intense pleasure of walking through dry leaves and kicking them up as you go." It was "through leaves" to run a stick along an iron railing or to crunch thin ice; to suddenly remember a word or name you thought you'd forgotten; or to write with the perfect pen nib. So was pulling curtains that ran freely on their rods, sliding out the drawer of a steel filing cabinet which opened "readily and silkily" on ball bearings, cutting pages of a book with a sharp paper cutter, or drawing a cork with a good corkscrew. Drinking when you're thirsty, feeling sand between your toes at the beach, reading in bed – that "perfect moment" that lasts only as long as you can stay awake – sinking into bouncy seats at the cinema...
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