Thursday, July 24, 2008

Capacious Project - Catherine Owen

Catherine Owen is a poet residing in Edmonton whose work has been published in periodicals, anthologies and collections across Canada and elsewhere. Her latest books are Shall: ghazals (Wolsak and Wynn 2006), Cusp/detritus (Anvil Press 2006) and DOG (sonnets with Joe Rosenblatt, Mansfield Press 2008).

Spurning the Purse: A Saga of Baglessness

Towards the glam or even humble purse I am not ambivalent. I am, have been all my adult female life, indifferent to them, not opposed with the ire I expressed towards the pink putridity of Barbie for instance, but merely blind to any of their redemptive attributes. Although the back pack I hefted around Europe, scarred with its Canadian insignia of innocence, has the remnants of nostalgia trailing from it, in general I have always dismissed the necessity for any kind of real carry-all.
This tendency could be read by a trained therapist as yet another sign of my regressed state, my persistent refusal to accept reality which, among other things, seems to constitute a full time job, a committed relationship, growing older and yes, for women, sporting a purse.
The only purse I owned prior to adulthood was given me by Aunt Liz. My aunt, under the perfectly valid assumption that my ex-nun mother would know few feminine graces to impart to me, took it upon herself to rigorously school me in female deportment. Mostly this entailed such lessons as how to eat spaghetti (clenching a spoon beneath one's hairless armpit), how to put on a bra (when I developed breasts that was) and how to shave one's bikini line (with an ice cube and patience).
It also required two gifts: a black plastic snapping case full of gaudy tiles of eyeshadow and a purse, white, puffy, shiny as a marshmellow on steroids. I do remember cramming that bag with Sudden Beauty hairspray, oily pink lipstick, bus fare and a Jackie Collins novel, Rock Star, I think it was.
But I was so embarrassed to be seen trucking around with it at school that I would leave it in the washroom between classes, returning of course to find my shekels gone and my aerosol can half empty. Quickly graduating to the androgyny of bags, I adopted a discarded Army satchel for my first years of college, sewing a Mayhem patch over the eroding letters: U.S. Mostly, it held books: Kant, Mead, Joyce and other one-syllable paragons of academe. When the straps tore off, I replaced it with one faceless black carry-all after another, determined never to get attached to the attaché.
The closest I came was the first semester I taught at Simon Fraser University when I emblazoned my staid brown briefcase with stickers championing everything from the Day-Glo Abortions to the Pro-choice movement.
Since my stint at the university ended in 2003 however, I've eschewed any permanent form of bag.
Preferring to keep my shoulders, arms and even back free from the impositions of anchor-like accouterments, obvious blazons of over-material fragility, I usually slip Interac cards into my pockets, an eyeliner, perhaps a tres mince volume of verse.
Come to think of it, this practice truly began after an evening at the ill fated Dufferin, a gay night club in downtown Vancouver. As was my custom in high school, I simply ditched my then-purse/backpack by my table when I went to shimmy to Like a Virgin, naively presuming that this tribe of non-conformists would never deign to stoop to theft. I was wrong of course, returning to find the only wallet I had ever owned lifted, the villains enjoying an evening of taxis and Subway at my expense.
Yes, it was from that point on that I utterly divested myself of bag, purse, pack of any kind. Sure I've given in once in a while, dashed on a panic trip to Zellers to scoop up a 14$ strappy thing on the way to a launch or other gala occasion, my gown pocketless and needing my hands for shaking. But it is quickly discarded, relegated to my storage space, gifted to the V.V. Boutique, my only substantial carry-all the current book I choose to take out to breakfast, inside its pages a letter from a friend, a thin compact case, bank cards.
I feel like a medieval spy. Having my purse and not carrying it too, o yeah.

a thug's lineup of purse-types: my mother's antelope fur attache from Africa c. 1967, my old army satchel, sans patch, and the current Zellers one-use only strappy thang

photo by Catherine Owen

Go here to read more about the Capacious Project.