Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It Could Happen To You

I read today of the firing of the two top women's fashion executives at Barneys NY, a firing that seemed inconceivable based on how closely linked to the Barneys brand these two women were.(Article at http://runway.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/will-top-firings-change-barneys-cool/?hp) When you live and work in as public an arena as high-end fashion, hirings and firings are there for all to see and read about. But I couldn't help but wonder how these two women were feeling today.

Have you ever been fired? I have. It's awful. It's awful like being raped is awful. Like being dumped unexpectedly is awful. When someone else can suddenly alter one's fate and one's future through his actions, it can take the most confident and accomplished of us and make us immediately feel incompetent and lacking. I can't even begin to imagine how much worse it feels to then have the news amplified in the public arena, but I feel for these women. I don't know them; I might not even like them if I met them. They could be the biggest snobs in the world or they could be people who yell at their assistants in public. But regardless, dragging their names through the mud is the last thing they need right now, and I wish them well as they recover from being summarily let go.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friends and Family

As someone who works in retail, I know well that the phrase “friends and family” has come to mean a discount, a coveted once-a-year discount originally reserved for true friends and family members of employees and now offered far and wide to anyone. I hate that that’s what the term has come to represent, just as I hate the term “friending” on Facebook, because both devalue the meaning of true friendship.

I am currently staying with a close friend who happens also to be my aunt, the person who is closest to a mother figure in my life, a person for whom I would crawl across cut glass, a person with whom I laugh and cry and relax as with no one else. My aunt is 83 and in frail health. Feisty and sharp as a tack, she is also tiny as a little bird, recovering from major surgery, and worrying the pants off all who care for her. We speak absolutely every day, not out of obligation as much as out of our days being incomplete without this connection, and the treat of having a few precious days together in person during which we can share our coffees is my idea of heaven. This is friend and family.

Since it was getting close to the holidays, this week I saw an old friend who is like family, like a brother. He is to whom I turned for comfort and shelter after I was brutally attacked many years ago, and I was one of the old friends who he invited this week to share the first unveiling of his new puppy. We don't speak often, nor do we engage in Facebook chatter, but I know he has my back, that we have give and take, lightness and protection, puppy hugs and bear hugs through birth,marriage, illness and rape; these are the moments that reveal friends and family.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It Should Have Been the First Sign

“So what is it about the Farmer’s Market that you like so much?”, he asked when we first met. That should have been my first clue that I would find it difficult to find a common ground with this person. As I went on and on, trying to describe the pure joy I get when I see a pile of just-pulled-from-the-ground rainbow carrots, or the inspiration I am suddenly struck with upon encountering curly kale, or the impossible-to-resist urge to try a white pomegranate, I was greeted with an interested but blank response. “Tell me more. Take me there. Introduce me.” Several dates later when I served a meal, an act which I think of as a gift I love to share, there was no squealing with delight over the golden beets or noticing the way the pomegranate juice was coloring the leaves in the salad. And the conversation returned to something far less textured than the meal before us.

It was at that moment that I had an aha moment about relationships, about the give and take, the learning and teaching, and just how much of that I want and am willing to provide in a relationship. I love learning about new things, and am a willing student. I love sharing what I know, and am a willing teacher. But it was at that moment that I knew I was trying to create a bridge across a chasm to a place I did not want to go.

Sometimes this happens in the workplace. Long ago I learned that I wanted to be surrounded by people who give as much as they take, by people who bring thoughts, suggestions and action rather than by people who want me to do all the leading. For a few moments it can feel good to be the exalted leader, but really it is the reciprocal engagement that makes successful teamwork, even and often when that engagement is with people of wildly differing opinions or approaches. And that when I am having to work too hard to find a meeting place, chances are the work relationship and true teamwork is never going to click.

Obviously this is true in personal relationships, including the one I was most recently exploring with a man who, although charming, was not a good fit for me as a partner. While I don’t have a requirement that a partner be a fellow “foodie”, I realize how incredibly important it is to be able to share my own passions and have a partner tune into them, even if it’s an experience we've not yet shared. Chalk another one up to experience, and pardon me while I go back to the market!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

He's Leaving Home, Bye Bye

Today is the day my son, my wonderful, interesting, sometimes maddening, I'd-do-anything-in-the-world-for him, first-born child is moving out on his own. Nick is moving across the country, having reached his goal of saving enough money to give himself the cushion he thinks he needs to launch his adult life on his own terms. I am so proud of him, so happy for him, so sad to know that his presence will no longer be in my home or my city.

Nick's launch is so different from my own, so much better planned than my impetuous hitchhiking across the country to a Berkeley that sounded cool to my 19 year old self and offered a possibility of a new beginning for me. And yet, with all his planning, I suppose the thing that I am most excited about for Nick is the fact that really, he has no idea what is in store for him. As he pursues his difficult career choice as an actor, as he dives into a city which he has not yet even visited but has elected to try out as home, as he lives without the shelter of parents to cushion some of the everyday blows, Nick is bound to hit bumps and walls, serendipitous delights and moments of fear and despair. And he is ready for it, or at least as ready as any of us are for living life on our own two feet.

Bravo Nick. Safe launch. Oh, how I'll miss you here in San Francisco and oh, how proud this mother is. I'm just wondering how I'll get through this day...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Life Lived in Exclamation Points

While some artists seduce you quietly with their work, drawing you in to their private world, others come at you full force, pronouncing and exclaiming with an approach and vision so bold and unique it stops you in your tracks. Welcome to the world of Harriete Estel Berman.

Harriete’s studio is filled floor to ceiling with her raw materials: tin cans, tin doll houses, vintage cans, tins collected by others and sent to her, flattened sheets of printed metal sorted by size, shape, and color – everywhere. Often it feels like you are falling down Alice’s rabbit hole with the visual stimulus of bright shiny materials wherever your eye turns. In sharp contrast (no pun intended, though there are sharp edges everywhere), Harriete’s attention to the tiniest details is evident, and the laborious nature of her work requires her jeweler’s focus precision.

Harriete is a jeweler and metalsmith who long ago traded working in fine metals for recycled materials, particularly printed and patterned tin cans. Having learned about Harriete’s work over a year ago and then meeting her, I knew I had to visit her studio and get a better sense of what makes her tick. Oh. My. God. In spite of having seen Harriete’s exuberant work, nothing – NOTHING! – had prepared me for her studio, her energy, her wonderfully obsessive commitment, and the social commentary in her work.

What first drew me to Harriete’s work was her teacups, masterfully created from cans flattened, meticulously sliced, re-formed, precariously stacked. Harriete does nothing on a small scale, and the teacups are no exception; once part of a series of 200, only a few remain in her possession now.

Large scale, multi-year projects do not daunt Harriete. Her grass project used 32,000 separate blades of tin grass, and it was her commitment to the social commentary on American’s obsession with their lawns and the environmental impact of maintaining green lawns that drove Harriete to create this project over several years. For the past four years she has been working on a piece which uses thousands and thousands of used No. 2 pencils, a piece which comments on the role of standardized testing in the weakening of the American education system. http://www.harriete-estel-berman.info/sculpt/pencilPage.html.

It is extraordinary to have this kind of zeal and passion, and to be able to take an issue which concerns so many of us and turn it into provocative work which is bound to have a social impact. And that is, perhaps, the most amazing aspect of this mighty woman - this woman who lives her life in exclamation points of imagery and exuberance, that she can take the ordinary around us and turn it into forms which question our beliefs, challenge our senses, and cause us to stop and take notice.

If you want to see her work, go to www.harriete-estel-berman.info. Her website is incredibly thorough.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Acting like a Dog

Warning: this post is going to be a typical Lisa narrative which seems to be disconnected until the end. Stay with me, as the loose ends really do tie together.

Last month in North Carolina, I was charmed by the work of Margaret Couch Cogswell, a multi-media artist whose gentle whimsical work touched my heart when it was most fragile. I bought a piece entitled “Sometimes a Heart Needs Holding”, as my wounded one needed holding badly and I liked the idea of healing myself.

One piece in particular made me laugh, a piece in which Cogswell created her dog’s view of the Penland School where the artist has been completing a residency. Tessy, Margaret’s dog, saw the school as “Pee-land”, and the work included a map of Tessy’s pee spots, places where the hard-working Tessy announced she had been and by peeing on top was announcing her status as top dog.

Fast forward 7 weeks. My heart is long-healed, I am feeling stronger, less vulnerable, a few steps clearer about my needs and wants vis a vis love, dating again, and feeling great about being solo. And then this weekend happened, a time of long walks, planned adventures, serendipitous encounters throughout San Francisco. I found myself reacting to the city much like Tessy, as I visited an artist’s studio with the closest of friends, sat at a bar introduced to me by one man in my past, listened to a broadcast of a performance I had attended with another, admired produce at the farmer’s market as I remembered meals I had enjoyed cooking with yet another, shared a dinner with a new acquaintance at a new venue which will now be permanently linked in my mind to this man. Like Tessy, I was responding to each of these places as if it was scented and marked by a relationship, no matter how long or brief. San Francisco has become my pee-land, rich with experiences and associations. Unlike Tessy, I don’t feel the need to be top dog, but I suppose my version of re-marking these places is my urge to reach out to the men in my past when I re-visit these places, not to restart something which is over but to acknowledge the sweetness now past. Some respond, some don’t. Their loss, in my opinion.

Interestingly, the “Heart” piece I had purchased from Cogswell also arrived this weekend, and I was interested to see that while it still spoke to me, I was no longer that woman with the heart that needed holding that I had been in North Carolina. The heart heals, it re-opens, it discovers new people and places and sniffs them out, marking them and me permanently, like Tessy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sometimes A Great Vision

It is often the case when I look at a shelter magazine that I wonder about the people whose homes represent a particular, unique, original point of view. I always wonder who they are, how they got there, what inspired them, what gave them the courage to so boldly customize their dwellings in such singular styles.

And then I realized I know one of them, my wonderful friend Jeffrey Moss, whose amazing home I visited this past week.
In his profession, Jeffrey is a filmmaker and photo stylist. In his personal life, Jeffrey is a storyteller, an imaginer with the most generous of hearts and spirits, a collector bordering on the obsessive, and an esthete with a keen eye for detail and nuance. Since I have known and loved Jeffrey for well over a decade, I knew all this already, but nothing – NOTHING – prepared me for the jolt of WOW of his home.

Of course the space itself is fabulous, a converted old building full of light and exposed brick, hidden corners and almost no closets. But it is Jeffrey’s collections that knocked me over. He has created walls of photos, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of photos, all black and white, all of people, all unknown to Jeffrey but with stories attached to them, all curated, chosen, and pinned to every inch of the wall. There’s the wall of men, another of women, boxes more edited and stowed. And then his books, and his shoes, lined up along the rungs of the staircase, celebrated as much for their beauty as for their meaning, treated like the objects of beauty that Jeffrey’s eyes see them with.

Everywhere you look there is a delicious detail, an artful touch, a considered placement, yet the home is obviously well lived in and loved, part styled and part messy, as ready for a nap as for an impromptu party. And everywhere it reeks – in a wonderful way! – Of Jeffrey and his vision, his personality, his sense of self. Not surprisingly, Jeffrey’s home is being featured in some rather prestigious shelter magazines, with Elle Decoration being the latest. Now I know that at least in one case, one of these fabulous featured homes is, indeed, the result of a courageous creative vision, that of my dear friend.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What a Difference A Year Makes

Yesterday was my birthday, and while I am not thrilled to have to announce my age as yet one year older, I cannot help but look back at this year and think of all the learning and growth and change that has happened in my life. Normally I do that sort of thing on New Year's Day, but this year, birthday to birthday, has truly been a defining one for me.

This year, like last year, I was away from home in Chicago for my birthday. The art show, SOFA, occurs every year on my birthday weekend (I'd like to think they are celebrating me as well as the kind of art I love!), so it is a busman's holiday for me to spend the weekend in Chicago for the show, seeing artists and gallery owners who are part of my completely integrated personal-professional life. But last year, as I spent much of my time alone, I knew I was to return shortly to a home in San Francisco where I would be living alone for the first time in 33 years. My birthday preceded my official separation by a few weeks (though I had mostly been living apart from my husband for the prior two years) and I was feeling adrift, unmoored, excited but scared.

I had no idea when I leaped off the married bus what would lie ahead of me. I neither anticipated falling head over heels in misplaced crazy love nor the accompanying loss of equilibrium; I had no idea I would be so sad over the end of the marriage nor had any idea I would be so hungry for new adventure; I couldn't have imagined how many new people I would meet and how thrilling it would be to make new friends and lovers; I suspected how awful dating might be, but had no idea how I would cope, how I would be perceived, or how being rejected would feel (PS - it hurt like crazy!).

While I was building my new solo life on my own two feet, I was also suring up my company's life. Coping with the Great Recession and the toll it took on the company has been a huge task, and this birthday finds the company in a stronger place than it was a year ago, operating more efficiently and effectively, having greater relationships with both customers and artists, and in a sustainable healthier financial position. It has been a hard year, and my wonderful staff is understandably and rightfully exhausted from the effort it has taken. I am so grateful to them.

Throughout the year I feel like I tried on different Lisas in clothing, home decoration, and behavior, and ended up quite happy with the mix. While there are some purchases, trips, and actions I regret, most make me extremely happy and I feel at home in my home, in my clothes, and in my skin. Writing this blog has been a significant part in helping me think through that which is important to me, both personal and professional: part catharsis, part editorial, part reaching out to those who indulge me by reading it, part philosophy.

So here I am, 58 years old, a little wiser, definitely more experienced, and OK with it (well, not so OK with the number 58, but what can you do?) No husband nor boyfriend was there to wine and dine me for my birthday, and I was better than fine with that. I spent part of the day with friends new and old, and part of the day alone, and both parts were delicious and satisfying. On to the next year, the next experience, the next art, the next love, the next blog!

Monday, November 1, 2010


Sunday’s New York Times had a piece called “Funeral For a Friend” about the lost art of telephone calls in the age of cell phones, texts, emails and Facebook. I could relate to the article all too well, as I know the quality of my phone calls has deteriorated dramatically. Originally this was the case due to the fact that I had little free time and was on the phone a lot for work, but I know that I have been greatly affected by the change in communication techniques and have had to have friends remind me of the delicious possibilities a great call affords.

One place where I find the phone to be immensely helpful is with dating. I recognized early in the online dating game that the sound of a man’s voice told me a lot, that it was a part of his being and thus was something to be attracted to – or not! And if a man could not carry on a conversation over the phone, I learned he likely was poor at carrying on one in person, and thus I added a preliminary call to my screening process.

But even more than that is the significance of staying in touch. While I lead a pretty busy life, I still speak to the people closest to me often, sometimes nearly every day. That sound of their voices tells me so much more than an email does, tells me if they are up or down, sick or well, crazed or on an even keel. When they don’t hear from me, they know something is up.

A voice serves as an oral touch, whether a caress , a helping hand, or a slap. If old telephone rituals are akin to a novel, today’s are more often like Morse code, and frequently are taking place along with another task. Maybe it’s not the telephone part that we have lost, but rather that wonderful art of conversation.