A poem for Halloween

Happy Halloween! I hope all my east coast friends are safe from storms and floods and in form to delight in guising and devilry. And Oíche Shamhna shona daoibh, friends at home!

This is by Annie Finch, via the Poetry Foundation.


Samhain
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.


Image from RTE

From the weekend

I think the best of the leaves have fallen and with the rain and winds we're expecting this week, that'll likely be it for fall. On Friday, I was thinking along these lines and got off partway home from work to go to Edwards Gardens and walk the trail by Wilket Creek.

It was beginning to rain and there was a hush down there. I was quite alone a lot of the time and without the touchstone of a nearby city street or shopping area. I kept my keys close all the time. And yet, I relished the quietness of it, the sudden rustle of leaves and the muffled gurglings of water.


I came home and pulled out a book of Irish ghost stories I have that's more than 100 years old. And I prolonged the chills by reading simple stories of spirited people, up and down familiar places in Ireland (and all the more chilling because of the familiar towns and houses and roads).


The rain persisted all weekend, making every venture outdoors more of a production than it ought to have been. But it was worth it to see Paul Auster at IFOA and chat briefly with him afterwards as he penned my name next to his own in my book. Auster is way, way up there for me...

Afterwards I ate at momofuku (yum!), drank cocktails and rode a subway home full of girls dressed up to look like slutty versions of a whole cast of familiar characters.


I like Oíche Shamhna though. When I was growing up, people would carve turnips rather than pumpkins (I don't remember ever seeing pumpkins in Ireland as a child). And our bonfires and guising were much more primitive affairs, still with spiritual connotations and more effectively chilling for that.


But even here I feel the remnants of all that, and I can't help but think the commercialization has failed to entirely strip this time of year of some kind of mystical underpinning. I feel it when I'm alone these dark evenings and mornings in a visceral, earthly way and I relish the air as I step outside. I feel the season now drawing to its close and I'm not quite ready for what's next. 

Friday!

My week flew by! I think I was in some kind of rapture from the gorgeous light and being so busy at work.

I read Lady Susan this week. Have you read it? Stumbling on an unread Jane Austen was like realizing there's an episode of Buffy you haven't seen (or something similarly awesome). It's a quick read, but trademark Austen - acerbic and delightful.


I also loved Hila's "Picturing Lucy" post. And I haven't done so yet, but I look forward every week to clicking on every link in Jessica's Read. Look. Think.

I already think Kevin Barry is a fascinating writer, though I haven't read City of Bohane yet, I'm predisposed to think it good (these kinds of predispositions, which I frequently have, make me feel very nervous about approaching anything). But this too - that chocolate answer - he's already good.

I enjoyed reading What Hangs on Trees. And, although I'm not sure how much I swallow of this article, I'm also very interested in the idea of malignant shame and identity, at a personal and national level.

"Malignant shame, more than a simple emotion, is an identity: a more or less permanent state of low self-esteem that causes even successful persons to experience themselves as being unworthy . . . Thus, abuse victims often remain passive in the face of punishment because they suspect that the rage and criticism of their perpetrator is both accurate and justified."

This is an eerily accurate diagnosis of the collective passivity of Irish citizens. We are the victims of an obvious outrage – forced to beggar ourselves to pay off debts that "we" never incurred. But we are unable to respond to this attack because we suspect that we deserve it." - Fintan O'Toole


And I suppose I should end on a happier note than that? Perhaps a thought about rearranging books this weekend, spending time in the company of writers, heavy beverages and starchy plates, food that's mashed and melted, and finding room in there for flowers too.

Have a great weekend!

Inspiring women: Karen Yurkovich

The artwork of Canadian artist Karen Yurkovich speaks to me in tongues both ancient and modern. I see allusions to the likes of Maria Sibyalla Merian, Dutch still lives and the macabre of vanitas.

But there's also a palette that's wholly expressive, with gem-like qualities, and a suspended point of view that feels startling and slightly surreal. Still, more than either ancient or modern, there's timelessness in the syntax of her paintings, each one a fable.

The palette of these three works speak to my present mood and our current season, but please visit her portfolio to appreciate the full depth of her work. In Toronto, her work can be seen at Bau-Xi.

From the weekend

I don't always, but on Sunday I did exactly what I said I was going to do... took myself to the cemetery and strolled under canopies of beautiful leaves. It was one of those days when people looked at each other in wordless agreement that we were witnessing perfection.

Even as I tired I was reluctant to turn back home. And so I took a break in a coffee shop and then dipped into the ravine, got covered in mud and laughed at myself. Five hours later, with the sun starting to set, I turned for home. When I got inside, I felt that beautiful exhaustion from so much fresh air and sunshine. If only every day could be a perfect Sunday, what a life that would be...


More photos on my Flickr

Sunday best: Conker collecting

On Sundays, I sometimes wander in the cemetery. Lately, I veer off the paths and across the grass. In Ireland, the graves are clearly demarcated, with curbs or rails framing each plot. Oh, how we Irish love building walls around our little patch of dirt. You're not to walk across the graves, but between them. And as children we would balance on those curbs, making a game of being so good.


But Mount Pleasant's patchwork is indecipherable to even the most attentive walker and although I don't forget what's below me, there's a certain Canadian sensibility to this arrangement, more pragmatic than precious. A family headstone branches out to stones laid flat in the ground, like this one for Flora. And some simply say Mother or Uncle. I like to see them so much and to read their dateless names, that I take the risks and bear the guilt.

The leaves right now would make your heart soar like a person who believes in religion and could take to song. Sometimes they darken, clumped and matted in puddles and wet patches of grass, or leave outlines on pavements that salt and snow will later raze. But enough still hang, dry as a butterfly's wing, on branches, to create those golden canopies that draw you off footpaths and under trees, among headstones.


It's there that you might find some conkers too. A horse's haunch in miniature, the tawniest port, the glow of wood polished and oiled, the smell of a piano opened up; the perfect netsuke of nature. And I roll them in my hands and in my pockets and carry them home to put in bowls and hold later. So that when it's dark the candlelight will hit them just so and they will glow again.

Transitional seasons hang like travel, a brief a no-man's-land. And my mind often gets lost, forgetting which season we're coming out of and going into, and I feel my age as it melds and mires. But I live too in the swing of the door, in everything that's mutable and glows and is without demarcation.

Products: Merino snood from Toast | Sessun Long Walk Floral Dress from Steven Alan | Blackberry & Bay perfume from Jo Malone | Horse ring from Conroy & Wilcox | Conkers | Anniel ballet flat from Steven Alan | Mimi Frank bag from Mimi Berry

Friday!

Sorry me, I've been fighting a particularly vile cold this week. So, my days have felt long and my evenings short and sleep and remedy-focused.


The mornings are so dark now, I can look outside and stretch to imagine snow falling. It's always a paradigm shift, when you are suddenly able to imagine the season ahead of you. Already, summer's heat is difficult to remember in any real sensual way.

Somehow, these days have been just right for writing in though. I'm working on a few stories for various things and will try to share them here if they're published, though I'll probably just mention them in some oblique way and let those of you who are interested seek them out. If it's not apparent by now, I'm not one for pushing my work in other spheres...

I do want to thank all of those of you who added your voice to the pinkwashing issues raised last week. Together, we managed to get quite a bit of extra coverage (I left links in the comment field of last Friday's post). Of course, we barely tipped the iceberg...

Ah I missed being here this week! I hope to be back in fine fettle for you on Sunday!

In the meantime, have a lovely weekend!

Golden hour, Toronto Islands

If I ever leave Ontario, I already know the time of year, the kind of day, even the hour that will make me miss it most. It's the golden hour on certain days of fall. It makes sense of everything in this city and it makes the summers that swelter and the tundra winters all worthwhile.

On Friday, I took the ferry Ongiara over to Ward's Island. We had a brief window, to stroll and look at houses, to see the island suffused in light coppered and golden. There's something off-kilter about most of the houses on the island (and one would guess, some of their inhabitants). The walls and roofs are all akimbo and overgrown.

As the sun set, we drank a pumpkin ale and speculated about silly things. We strolled some more and then caught the ferry back in the dark.

Friday!

How lovely for a Friday to roll around after a short work week. Although it feels like I barely glanced off the office this week, I'm ready for a break. But first...

This week, my blog friend Acacia wrote this brave post. Yes, I said brave. It's a word people use a lot to praise each other on the blogosphere. And not that I want to be a detractor of the kind sentiments they're expressing, but a lot of what that word is assigned to doesn't count as brave in my books.

But Acacia is brave and her post was brave and angry and just and it moved me tremendously.


When I shared Acacia's post with the Etsy editor who had created the e-mail, she replied with a very pat response: "Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. Always appreciate the feedback on how to improve & grow". This further angered me. I myself have guest-blogged for Etsy and blogged about numerous Etsy sellers, I've been a supporter of, and contributor to, their community. So my reaction is magnified because I have counted myself as part of the Etsy community...

I'm so angry at Etsy's glibness and lack of sincere compassion, at their sellers' disingenuousness (though, of course, I don't blame the sellers who just happened to have pink products but make no "pink cause" connection who were included in the e-mail) and also at Etsy's own lack of participation in making any kind of contribution of pink causes, while they merrily use cancer to market their site and sellers.

And I'm so angry for Acacia because I can't begin to fathom how this must make her feel. And I'm frustrated for people who buy these products mistakenly assuming that they're helping in some way. Of course, Etsy isn't the only retailer participating in "pinkwashing", but that doesn't negate this criticism. Etsy should know better and they should also have given Acacia's e-mail and her blog post more respectful consideration and responded more professionally and substantially*.

I know this isn't my usual cathartic Friday blog post and there were other lovely things this week, I'm sure, that I just can't summon right now.

But I do hope you all have a lovely weekend!

* cf. this - a great role model for how an organization, and an individual, should respond to personal criticism.

P.S. The photo above was the sky one morning this week as I left for work. For a moment, my entire apartment was suffused with pink light; that's a form of pinkwashing I can get behind.

Inspiring women: Anni Albers

I hadn't looked closely at the work of Anni Albers in years and then I was rooting through some stuff over the weekend and found myself looking at her work with fresh eyes.

I was struck immediately by how Albers continues to influence makers and artisans. Many of my current Etsy favourites could be viewed as a footnote to her work. And given this resonance with out current aesthetic (triangles galore and hardware-derived jewelry, in particular), her work looks startlingly contemporary.


Anni Albers was born in 1899 and went to the Bauhaus as a student in 1922. At the Bauhaus, she experimented with new materials for weaving and executed richly colored designs on paper for wall hangings and textiles in silk, cotton, and linen yarns in which the raw materials and components of structure became the source of beauty.

She met her husband, Josef, there too and the couple lived alongside artist teachers including Klee and Kandinsky until they emigrated to the US in 1933 to work at Black Mountain College. Anni taught and made her extraordinary weavings and developed new textiles.


During these years Anni Albers's weavings were shown throughout the US and she published many articles on textiles and design. This activity culminated in her 1949 show at the Museum of Modern Art - the first exhibit of its kind for a textile artist. Her seminal text On Weaving was published in 1965.

Later, the couple moved to Yale and there Anni took up printmaking and lithography. She continued to travel, to make prints, and to teach until her death in 1994, at the age of 94, in Connecticut.

Further reading:
The Albers Foundation
Book: Anni Albers: Selected Writings on Design
Book: On Weaving by Anni Albers


Image credits: Both portraits of Anni Albers, via Vogue Italia
All work shown, by Anni Albers, via The Albers Foundation

Fall warmth

I haven't been shopping a lot lately... I've set some ambitious savings goals for the next six months and it means I'm staying as far away from the shops as possible. Still, the change in seasons brings out new desires; a tea pot, a scented candle. Mostly, I draw from things I already own — blankets come out of closets, favourite mugs are held for a little longer, allowing the warmth infuse my fingertips as I deeply inhale.

I love when new things come in to my home to mix with old, that transformation that takes place from an object to a personal belonging. I'm never comfortable with new things until that process is complete, until I no longer see the object but an extension of myself, my home.


Bellocq | Heath | Soap | Sukan | Toast |

Sunday best: Thanksgiving

Adopted holidays never carry the deep sense of meaning as the holidays I grew up with. With no memories to pad the experience, it always takes on a hue of arbitrary role-play.


Still, I like Thanksgiving, falling as it does at the gorgeous peak of autumn in Ontario. But, of course, no family gatherings or turkey dinner for me... whatever I do and wear today will be conjured from my own devices and will be for my own simple pleasure.

I hope you have a lovely Sunday! Happy Thanksgiving, Canadians!

Products: Quarry Qomar Necklace from Totokaelo | Cindy top from Steven Alan | Indigo slim jeans from Toast | The biker boot from Madewell | Velvet Gloss Lip Pencil from Nars | Antonia bag from Ally Capellino

Friday!

This week has strangely tossed me about. Moments of clarity followed by moments of fog, hopefulness followed by helplessness.

I think the last few weeks have been marked by one clear thought though: It's just going to be me. I've been alone a long time now, but I've never really realized how fully autonomous that makes me. There's always been a sense of another, even when I've felt isolated. At times it was a wish or hope. At others a memory. And sometimes a more vaguer conjuration.


Of course, there are others; family and friends, many loved ones. I don't mean to let you think that I'm so desperately isolated or lonely. But what I do next, where I go, the decisions I make, the holidays I take, the work I do, the writing I do... I have to stop doing it with the idea of another who doesn't exist. More... I need to stop not doing it because I'm waiting for somebody to bear witness to it.

And I know many people will think I'm talking about romance here. I'm not. Sometimes it's a parental figure, sometimes it's that childhood idea of being looked down on from a vantage up on high. Even at my most bolshie I've thought about what anonymous others think, if I become more loveable or admirable in the eyes of others because I make certain decisions and not others.

This is hard to admit, because I put on such a front of defiance of most expectations: I'm sensitive to what people think. It's likely why I react so strongly to be "shoulded" in comments, to readers who express parental ideas towards me, even though they're not possibly equipped to make such judgement. And so this idea that it's just me isn't as lonely as it sounds. It's liberating. Because the idea of another I was carrying was something felt strangely beholden to.

There's no Team Jane, there's only Jane. I don't think I've ever really embraced that.

I hope you have a lovely (Thanksgiving!) weekend.

The springs of affection

There's a story of a husband going through his wife's belongings after she has passed away by Maeve Brennan. It wasn't a happy marriage. He's searching for some belonging to provoke a sense of grief inside him, a sensation he doesn't feel. He's looking for some sense of her presence to show him he misses her. There was something beautiful and familiar about this.

Sometimes, when I'm homesick, I look at things that I know will make me feel more fully the thing I'm grieving for. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. I try not to use the ones that work too much lest they lose that magical power to conjure up a certain smell or sound or angle of light or even a distant dream that I had then.

And sometimes photographs of people too can summon the person to me, or the feeling of my old pal Baggins' curled under the crook of my legs in bed or resting his head in my hand. I treasure those talismans that transport me to other places and people, to hopes and ideas long forgotten.

I wonder do people ever think of me this way. I think about ex-boyfriends and friends far away. One used to put his hand on the nape of my neck when we walked and I still feel it there sometimes; a favourite gesture that will remind me only of him.

I think of all of this, all those belongings and gestures, and it all carries a sense of ending, a sense of loss and one of unknowing. For though we all have such ideas and belongings locked away, we rarely tell the people they involve. We would never call them up to say, "I think of you whenever I smell that soap, though we have long stopped meaning that much to each other."

The passage in Brennan's story made me cry, because of all people her husband should have known and felt all of this, but he didn't and saw it all coldly. And I wonder when I'm holding all these ideas of other people as being so precious to me if they would instead have forgotten or think icily too and render me silly and sentimental.

"Take, for example, that arrangement of old chocolate boxes on the blanket chest under the shelf where she had kept her few books. You would think, to see those chocolate boxes, and to note the careful order in which they were arranged, by size and also by shape, a rectangular one set straight and centred on top of a larger rectangle, the square ones built up like child's blocks on top of the squares, and the two long equal ones set apart from the rest, completing the design of even lines and sharp angles, all of it speaking of neatness and care and of an overpowering concern with order—you would think, looking at such an arrangement, that the boxes contained something of interest or value. And what did they contain? Old bills marked paid thirty years before. Recipes for dinners she had never cooked, dinners so elaborate that she must have been dreaming of a visit from the king and queen of England when she cut the menus out of the magazines in which she found them. Directions for making dresses that she would never in her life have had the occasion to wear—there was a whole pamphlet that gave instructions, measurements, etc., for the construction of a satin ball gown. It would have been laughable it if was not so pathetic... all the time dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, always dreaming, and what was it she had dreamed about, all her life? She had never said... She was all indirection." 

 - from The Drowned Man from The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan

Ruth Andre

I've spoken freely, especially of late, about aspects of the blog-world that leave me feeling weary and jaded. I find that when I think about big things, I'm overwhelmed to the point where I now longer see the point in participation.

And while blogging can exacerbate all of that, there are moments when it's beautifully small. When I receive certain comments or e-mails and I find myself believing things that were only the smallest hopes tucked away in a corner of my mind.


I'm both wary of and hungry for the power of readers in this respect... to leave me feeling fully understood or, sometimes, fully alienated. I try to protect myself from it. But it's also the nature and sometimes the beauty of what we do on blogs; connecting suddenly and profoundly to people unknown to us.

Ruth Andre e-mailed me after I published this post. The image was one I had instagrammed in Ireland. I remember wanting to fall into the sea as I stood there; one of those moments when I was unnerved by my lack of fear, by my own craving to swallowed whole by the sea.


I hadn't said any of this, but Ruth saw something in that little photograph too and was inspired to paint it as part of her "painting a day" project. And then she e-mailed me and offered to make me a gift of the painting. I cried when I read her e-mail and saw the painting she had made.

Her painting arrived last week and I feel very privileged to have it. Thank you, Ruth.