Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I sat down to try to catch up on posting some of the things that I have done lately, and I realized that there have been lots of Saturdays filled with special activities, outings, etc. It makes me feel like part of the working masses that gets to take one big day for leisure (Sunday being a day or rest, of course).

Anyway, these are some of the recent Saturdays:

A while ago, David and I rode our bikes over to the Chippendale neighborhood and met Nicole and Aaron at The White Rabbit gallery . This is a super-cool, amazing, pleasant, friendly, place that apparently, everyone knew about except me. I am glad I know now because I will definitely go back. We had fancy rose and lychee tea, dumplings and little almond cookies in the cafe, then we wandered all 4 floors looking at art from contemporary Chinese artists.

A friend of ours was performing in a community theater production out in a suburb called Rockdale, so we took the train and went to see it. It was fun to get out to a new area, and it was entertaining to see their over the top, almost slapstick performances. I really admire people who put themselves out before the scrutiny of the public.

On a larger, and much more famous and polished level, we saw the play - This is Our Youth, starring Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Emily Barclay, at the Sydney Opera House. It was a Saturday Matinee and we went for lunch before hand at Miss Chu where we could eat outside and look out over the Sydney Harbour. What a picturesque and entertaining day. It was fun seeing the actors that we would normally only see in movies, right in front of us. They did a good job of carrying a play that relied almost entirely on dialogue.

There have been other Saturday activities, but the last one I want to write about today is a workshop that I took at The Powerhouse Museum. The Powerhouse is a kind of history, science, culture, design, museum rolled into one. They frequently have classes and programs to attend. I went to the lace symposium back in June and, since that was so fabulous, I thought I would give it another try. This program is called Craft Punk. I am not sure why. I didn't see anything punk about it. Maybe they just wanted to attract young, alternative types. They had several workshops on textile design and I decided to take the Indigo Shibori class. I have done shibori but wanted to take a class to learn more precise techniques.

It was fun to get out on a Saturday morning and get my hands working. There were about 2o women (and 2 men), mostly around my age, I am guessing, everyone seemed to have some experience with dyes and/or shibori, but I am sorry to say, the teachers didn't really seem to be prepared to run the workshop. It was a 2 hour class, and we spent about half an hour actually doing the technique and putting it in the dye bath. After demonstrating the various folds and ties, the teacher stayed behind her table and didn't come around to help. So, in the end, we were guessing and rushing. We had to take our things home and rinse them before we could see them so we really didn't get to see what anyone else did and everyone just wandered off at the end without any conclusion. Too bad, because it could have been so much better with a little organization. I wasn't too happy with my results because the patterns I was working for didn't really turn out. I also wanted more white to remain for contrast. I am going to try doing it again with some natural dye from eucalyptus leaves. I wish we could have gotten more feedback and maybe even gotten to know each other a little bit. It seems like a great way to meet like minded people.

There are seemingly endless things to do in this city - both organized and spontaneous, big and small. I am going to keep trying to get myself out of bed early enough to make the most out of it all.

(These photos are all in reverse order, sorry. Top is me at the shibori workshop, then photos of the powerhouse and my work; me, Mira, and Nicole outside the Opera House, and a picture of the stage; the high street and stuffed toys in Rockdale; and the tea, and art at the White Rabbit.)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Constructing the Fictive Self

I was helping someone at work the other day, and I got distracted by something on his shirt. I usually try to be focused and efficient and not too familiar, when I am helping people, but, at the same time, I want to have a genuine human interaction. It makes my job more interesting, and, I think, most people enjoy a little friendliness. I just have to be careful not to go off on some tangent and forget what I am doing.

The easiest and most common thing is to comment on someone's baby or child. This almost always gets a positive response. If someone has great hair or an amazing eye color, I will occasionally say something, but usually, I keep those thoughts to myself. Since it is a fabric store, and I am keen on design and style, most of my remarks are about the clothes or jewelry or bags that the customers have. (I should note, I don't talk just to kiss up to people. I don't follow that annoying habit of asking every single person "what are you making with this?" I only say what I genuinely feel.)

So, this guy was at the counter, and I looked over at his t-shirt that said "je suis" - nothing else. The words were on what looked like a square, but I was trying to look more closely to figure out what the image was. I didn't want him to think I was staring at his chest, so I said "I am trying to figure out your shirt?" He said "It's french for I am." I said, "I know that" (I wish I had said 'je sait' but I only thought of it later). He said "are you french"? I laughed and said "no, but I know at least that much." He seemed truly surprised that I could identify french words.

It made me think, again, of how people assess me in public, and in new social situations. I deal with loads of people of different ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds, and it is sometimes fun, but sometimes a challenge to read them all. I wonder if they are just going through their day blindly, replacing social interactions with anonymous routines and not thinking anything, or are they constructing a stereotype about me because I am working retail in a chain store?

Do I care what people think of me? Only a little bit. Not as much as I used to. The thing is, I am interested in notions of The Self. I am interested in lives as stories and people as characters. I am interested in how these characters are formed. I know that we don't live in a bubble, and all experience is partly internal (i.e. what we bring to it), and partly external. I believe that our personalities affect our lives as much as the other way around, and I believe that we are born into the world with a good part of our personalities or characteristics already determined.

I come from a family of eleven children. We are all variations on a theme. We were all raised by the same parents, mostly in the same house. Yes, things changed over time and there is a ton of environmental influence, but each of us has a little something that is completely unlike our siblings. We each are our own person with our own soul (if you don't mind me calling it that). I am almost 51 years old, and I look at pictures of the 5 year old me, and I see a me that has been there all the time, that hasn't changed, and never will change.

When I moved to Australia I thought, "This is a whole new phase of my life. I can try new things. I can develop parts of myself that have been neglected. I can start a new life. I can reinvent myself and be a new person. No one will know me, or have any expectations of me, so I can act or react in a new, stronger, better way." I didn't expect to go around lying or making up a false history, but I did think I could create new habits and new skills that might lead to new personality traits. I thought maybe I would become a little bit Australian.

Mira is taking a class at uni called "Constructing the Fictive Self". I was intrigued by this title. I know that it means 'creating the self in literary fiction', but I was playing with it in my mind and applying it to my situation. Can we construct ourselves? Can we invent a fictitious, new, self? Does the sum of our behaviors equal who we are? Are we what we do, and what we eat? People are always saying, "If you act a certain way, you will become that." "If you act happy or brave, you will become happy or brave." "If you act like a criminal, you will become a criminal". "Be the person your dog thinks you are."

As I said before, I do think that we are born with a certain personality. Whether I am in Oregon, or London, or Arizona, or Sydney, I am finding that my personality is stronger than my ability to invent a new self. Maybe I just let my imagination blow things out of proportion with enticing ideas of newness. Maybe I need to invite my actual self to the party and introduce her as my flawed but somewhat interesting self. Maybe I can wear a shirt that says "je suis". While I'm at it, I can try to see if the people around me are wheeling out their new and improved construction, or if they just - are.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I can't remember if it has been one or two weeks. Time seems to be flying or swirling around my feet, and I am stepping carefully through it in order to keep my head focused and my eyes on whatever prizes I am supposed to be striving for; trying to avoid puddles, dead cock roaches, or on-coming traffic. There have been a few prizes lately.
Last Saturday I went to the second meeting of my Embroidery Guild class. There was another, new, woman there who was nice and fun, and it felt good to be getting more comfortable with the group. We learned more stitches and got a clearer picture of what our monthly assignments would be like. I had a horrible realization earlier in the week that the box that went missing during the shipping from our move, contained about 80% of my art and textile books. I am still in shock and can't even begin to recall all of them. I don't know how, or if I will ever replace them. I didn't have a full inventory of titles and many were old, out of print books. The women at the EG group all thought that it must be deliberate theft. If this is true, at least someone saw the value in them and maybe is getting good use out of them - better than them rotting in the back of some warehouse or the bottom of a dumpster.

Saturday night, I shifted gears, put on some wild, bright colored clothes and strode out into the night to meet Nicole at the Mardi Gras parade. It was drizzling and pouring off and on but there were still about 200 thousand people lining Oxford Street. The crowd was soaked but still packed in and rowdy. Rainbow umbrellas went up and down. The parade had more to do with Lesbian and Gay pride, and really not at all to do with Lent or throwing beads. The theme this year was marriage rights - equality and justice for all people, an end to discrimination. One woman had a sign that said "I can marry a gay man, so why can't he?"

The first group consisted of about 30 men and women on roller skates, dressed as butterflies. The costumes were so well made and beautiful that that would have been enough. Some of the groups were all about the costumes, like the group of Wonder Women with gold hula hoops, others were just showing their support, like the floats from Google, and the bank - ANZ. The atmosphere was positive and friendly on the parade route, even if there were plenty of drunken shenanigans going on in the bars and streets behind us. I left early when my raincoat got soaked through and I was shivering and tired. Walking back home, I saw some of the Wonder Women going into a cafe, then I passed one of the ANZ cheerleaders. I told him their float was great and he smiled and thanked me. I walked by the Russian restaurant where a wedding party was going on and all the people were in such sparkly clothes, they could have been at the parade.

Later in the week, David was in the spotlight. Sydney University, in keeping with tradition, hosted a kind of welcoming night for him. All new professors get an opportunity to present their work in an Inaugural Lecture Series. This year there are 4, and David's was the first. They had a reception with wine and hor d'oeuvres beforehand in the beautiful Nicholson Museum, where there is one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities outside of the UK. (We were served white wine only because they won't risk red wine staining anything in the museum.) I had fun mingling with the few people that I knew, and eating yummy snacks, but we were quickly ushered across the quad to the lecture hall in order to get the show started.

David spoke for 45 minutes to a full house of just under 300 people. He presented his ideas about challenges to justice in a climate changed world. He talked about people creating their own solutions to such issues as water, energy, and food, rather than waiting for large, multi-national solutions. He fielded questions from the crowd, and got very good reactions and reviews afterward. I kept thinking that this was like his very own, little, TED talk. He looked nice in his suit, and got lots of compliments on his tie, which is a Liberty of London fabric.

So, things are looking pretty good for him. He is pleased to have that over with, and he can focus on his next immediate thing which is two, big, international trips. Never a dull moment in his working life, but there is also time for fun. He is taking Valerie to see Bon Iver tonight.
I will be home stitching, but I don't mind. Parades and parties are more my idea of fun. I can only handle concerts in small doses. There is no end to the entertainment options in this town, so I can relax and watch a little TV every once or twice in a while without worrying about missing out.

The photos are: two Aussie politicians debating, Dykes on Bikes at the parade, Nicole with her mustache disguise at the parade, Nicole and me screaming and cheering with soaking hair, a bride, me and David before his talk, Mira showed up from classes to support her dad, Valerie- David's biggest fan, David and his colleague after the talk showing off their cool ties.