Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Goodbye to All That

The Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, that ugly, smelly, scary eyesore, home to many homeless folks, has been demolished, preparing the way for the building of a modern new facility which will better serve the Bay Area. I passed the rubble this week, enjoying the now accessible skylight and the sense of change in the air.

I have some strong associations with that terminal. My first real job at age 19, after boldly and naively moving to Berkeley to start a new life, was at North Beach Leather in San Francisco, where I had the job of glueing open seams on custom made extravagant leather garments for affluent hippies and celebrities. (I will never forget working on two jackets Barbra Streisand had ordered for a tour.) In stark contrast to the lives of the customers who could order these expensive leather garments was my life, the life of a self-supporting confused but ambitious college dropout trying to figure out what was going to come next. To get to my job, I alternated between carpooling and taking the bus across the Bay. The bus,around fifty cents for a ride, was too expensive for me to take everyday, thus my being a rider in a car.

The inevitable happened one day. My ride forgot to pick me up after work, I was left to get home by myself, and I had no money. No fifty cents. Nothing. I walked the long walk to the bus terminal, and began the humiliating act of panhandling. I had never done that before, and it was awful. I got to experience what it is like when people completely ignore you, pretending you don't exist. I tried telling my story, but it fell on deaf ears. No one would give me a dime, and all I needed was fifty cents. Finally, someone with whom I often rode on the morning bus recognized me, believed me, and fronted me the money. Mortified, grateful, chastened, and scared to my soul to think of what might have happened if no one had given me money,
I got on the bus and made it home, never ever leaving again without some money in my pocket.

I am somewhat affluent now, and thankfully will probably never be in that situation again - penniless, alone, with no one to turn to. Sometimes one of my kids will confess to being out and about with no money and it makes me nuts, thinking back to my experience at the Transbay Terminal, hoping that neither of my kids will have to experience that, yet knowing that I learned so much from it. But I bid farewell to that building with relief, relief that there but for fortune went I in that moment.

Monday, February 7, 2011

In the Middle

I had a weekend of what my best friend calls living "in the middle". Having lived much of my life noticing the highs and lows, I am now trying not only to notice but embrace the middle, all the life that is lived between the extremes. It doesn't make for such interesting stories, perhaps, but the stories of extreme sometimes overlook the beauty of the everyday. So a weekend of scritching the dog's ears, knitting a hat for a friend, having the time to speak to most of the people closest to me, tickling someone's fancy, whipping two opponents' butts in SCRABBLE, losing a few more games, and surprising a friend with a pot of soup were the "excitements" for me. And it was, to quote a friend, "just so".

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Scrabble as Metaphor

I have been playing SCRABBLE online for about 18 months now, and admit that I am a total junkie. It has been fun, maddening, and oddly enough, a great learning experience in a Zen kind of way.

The truth of the matter is, I'm not very good. My vocabulary is good, not great, and my ability to see words from a jumble of letters is definitely lacking. But on I play, usually with people I know or want to get to know, and interestingly enough, I have gotten to know a lot about myself and others, particularly men.

One man I played with (and dated) kept winning and winning and winning with fantastic words I had never heard of. When I finally asked him if he had an amazing vocabulary or was it possible he cheated, he confessed (unembarassedly) that, of course, he used online tools to help him figure out words; that everyone did it, didn't I know? (Scrabble Helper = Viagra?) That I had to ask before he would tell me something like that, that the playing field had never been level from the beginning, was a great indicator of the non-Scrabble relationship.

Another man I played with (and dated - hmm, is there a pattern here?) was honest from the beginning about his desire to win, about his joy in playing with an equal partner, loved talking through his difficulties in the game and had no issue naming a problem he was having. He was like that in person, too - honest with his feelings (even if I didn't like them), comfortable stating his position.

One woman I played with, so gentle in regular life and so fierce a competitor online, was incredibly generous with her skill, pointing out plays (after she had won, of course) giving me tips, and continuing to play with me in spite of the fact that I did not give her stiff competition. I had already suspected she was a mensch; Scrabble proved it so. But in addition, it taught me that the rather one-dimensional picture I had of her was missing so much, and that engaging with someone in a different activity from our normal relationship let me in to a whole new aspect, deepening our relationship.

And then there's me. I have come to see in Scrabble that I often play impulsively, that the desire to make a play overcomes my ability to think through carefully, that once I latch on to a play that seems good, I stop looking at alternatives. I have also seen that if I give it time (one of the great joys of online Scrabble where there is little pressure to make your move), I can see things differently, that new words form where none had previously existed.

I don't think I'll ever be a very good Scrabble player, and recent games on a real board have proven that perhaps I have even gotten worse as my knowledge and experience have grown. But it sure has taught me a lot, and perhaps is my new relationship litmus test!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Art to Wear: Zandra Rhodes

I am always attracted to the promise of art to wear, and truthfully am often disappointed by what I see. It is, unfortunately, fairly common for textile designers to have a greater love for fabric and pattern than knowledge of or interest in garment design. So often, much wearable art is that - art fabric which is wearable, but not necessarily flattering nor design conscious. Having trained as a textile designer, I understand the temptation to fall in love with the fabric, and have that dominate the ultimate piece of clothing. And having knowledge of tribal cultures and their use of minimally cut fabric in clothing design only perpetuates the desire to emulate this.

And then, there is Zandra Rhodes.

I was fortunate to have caught a show of her work at the Mingei Museum in San Diego this weekend, and was absolutely thilled, inspired, and knocked over by her work. Rhodes is a textile designer at heart and by training, but has developed a unique fashion design vocabulary which is, while often inspired by tribal and ancient textiles, always fiercely conscious of the body. As a major force in the British fashion world, Rhodes has received well-deserved acclaim for her collections' original approach to pattern, fabric, color, cut, and embellishment, all stemming from her textile designs and then built painstakingly to design perfection.

So inspiring was this show that it got me thinking - again - about the merger of art and design, of the ability to project personal expression through clothing, and the amazing ability of artists to take materials which have been worked with for centuries, millenia even, and create something brand new. Brava, Zandra!