Thursday, July 31, 2008
A purse was not green, it was not straw color, it was hardly seen and it had a use a long use and the chain, the chain was never missing, it was not misplaced, it showed that it was open, that is all that it showed.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The text in a less squinty form: Handbag Holds No Secrets: A transparent handbag for women is now becoming a fashionable accessory abroad. Made of a clear, semistiff, transparent plastic material, with decorative stitching at the edges, the bag reveals its contents at all times. The owner can even powder her nose while looking in a mirror that is inside her handbag, as shown in the photograph at the right.
Thursday, July 24, 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.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Contents of Sally’s Purse, Monday, July 19, 2008
• Pentax Camera (the non-digital kind)
• Seika’s Sunday School craft – a half paper-plate made into a watermelon (on Fruits of the Spirit theme)
• Three books: The Exploits of MoominPappa by Tove Jansson, Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson, and The Secret Wish of Nanerl Mozart by Barbara Nickel
• Coupon Holder
• Two Chequebooks
• Registration Letter for Portage Avenue Mennonite Brethren Vacation Bible School
• A Postcard for Art show: Art Among Friends at the Winnipeg Art Gallery put on by Community Living Winnipeg
• Two flourescent orange birthday cake candles
• Two girl’s barettes, one yellow and one red
• A letter to businesses to donate items for the Manitoba Japanese Canadian Associations annual Picnic
• Cheque stub in envelope from Manitoba Arts Council for grant rec’d to travel to Newfoundland
• City of Winnipeg Community Services Receipt for Kenji and Seika’s swimming lessons
• Shopping list with chewed gum squished inside
• Boarding Pass stub from flight taken from Vancouver to San Francisco
• Boarding Pass stub from flight taken Vancouver to Winnipeg
• Business card of personal banking rep “Abbie” of President’s Choice Financial
• A postcard advertising Star Lake Lodge with their Summer 2008 Program
• A green tealight
• Program for Seika’s piano recital
• Bulletin insert from St. Margaret’s Anglican Church with little kitties drawn on them in blue pen
• 2 push pencils
• black ink pen
• Copy of the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections sheet on the Margaret Avison fonds
• photocopy of an e-mail from Grace Thomson, current president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC)
• 2 sheets of yellow writing pad notes on grant applications to the NAJC
• 2 Towne Cinema ticket stubs
• Business card of Heather Conn, “Words on Fire, Works Inspired” for “spirited writing, teaching, and editorial services”
• packet of kleenex
• tube of sunscreen
• Levenger notebook with silver pen (purchased from Xmas gift voucher for judging Kiriyama)
• Red strawcovered notebook (given from friend who went to Vietnam)
About the bag itself, it was purchased in a Barnes and Noble in Union Square in San Francisco about two years ago in February when I went to judge the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize. It was an emergency purchase. The bag I had before – a smaller, red leather purse bought for me in Italy by my sister – had a thin strap that broke just as I was breaking into a run at the Vancouver airport (while in transit from Winnipeg) to catch a flight to San Francisco. I have a terrible habit of overstuffing my bags until the straps break. When they do, I just go on to the next capacious hold-all I can find.
Go here to read more about the Capacious Project.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I carry too much; I already know this, and most of the time, don’t care to alter.
I once kept pockets filled, stories for every spark of detritus, including small tokens, a drink umbrella, business cards, spare button, discarded watch, receipts. In 1997, I entertained Toronto bookseller Janet Inksetter when she told me to empty my pockets; I had explanations for every item, and amused her greatly (my stories are never short). She was going through a period, she said, of asking poets who came through to do same, and wasn’t expecting such bounty (John Barlow had performed the day before). She even added to mine, a St. Christopher medal she gave for safety, that I carried until the end of that particular reading tour a month later, placing safely in a box in my bedroom.
What and why do I carry? Hold-all, the title tells, and certainly, it tries. There are things we pick up that we carry with us for a very long time, and other things that only need to be carried a short distance (even further things we shouldn’t be picking up at all).
A shoulder bag filled with pens, used or otherwise, copies of current reading material, manuscripts, essays and poems in progress, a notebook, a packet of handwritten letters from a woman out west, copies of my own books for potential sale, bankbook, passport, earphones from the last airplane home, umbrella sometimes, for all this paper in the rain. Why carry? The fact I write in public places, some. The Second Cup at Bank and Somerset, or Rideau Centre food court. Is it any wonder bags so rarely last a year? The ottawa international writers festival tote as second if I need to carry more. I become a further pack-horse when I travel.
The scars across one of my festival bags, black shoulder bag and tote filled up with outgoing mail when I hit the oil slick in 2003, and my bicycle a Somerset bullet down with a momentum that kept moving, ten further feet. Sans helmet, it was the tote bag, along with limbs, that took the brunt of pavement. The outgoing box of contributor copies of Aaron Peck's STANZAS saving skull from potential dents or cracks, forcing deep scars along the tote and along my leg where bicycle chain took. Two sprained wrists and an elbow first thought fractured. Is it excess baggage saved my life?
My ex-wife favoured the same, mounds of seemingly random items in her once-bag, from stamps to baby soother to cassette tapes to weekly newspapers already old. I carry everything I have with me at all times, everything I seemingly own. I never know when I might need. A book to read or four, a notebook, manuscript pages of works-in-progress, books for potential review, books for always sale. A computer disk. Multiple pens, in case one runs out. Essays printed off the internet. Essays and poems I am working on. Spare napkins, from when I used to look after children. Condoms, when I've felt hopeful, even desperate. A sewing kit, a time. A corkscrew. Comic books and literary journals.
The carrying case itself is nearly incidental, something just to hold; a shoulder strap, large enough to carry all I think I need, and matching black, for style. I am a victim of my own standards and routines. I am nearly lost without. Some days I am self-contained, my luggage-sized utility belt.
Some days I work my way to be free, surrendering the weight.
all photos of rob mclennan by Charles Earl
Go here to read more about the Capacious Project.
Friday, July 18, 2008
On grey days, wet days
when light scatters
beneath beer bottles
and the compost bin –
when I arrive to work soaked,
mascara sketching cheap streaks
under my eyes –
I look into my goodwill purse
of brown leather, worn and heavy.
The purse is tired. So am I.
a simple thought deep
in our seams:
we will die
never having owned
a decent umbrella
through all these cities of rain.
I couldn't resist showing off this wonderful treasure trove that I received in the mail yesterday from my friend Nina Berkhout. She squeezed in a visit to the Museum of Bags and Purses on her recent trip and send me this fabulous shopping bag (I've shown the front and reverse above). Needless to say, this little package made my day.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
My travelling backpack (I never use suitcases) is a big blue Invicta soft-sided $40 Special, the straps of which can be tucked away inside a velcro flap to make it safe on baggage carousels. In the five years I've had it, it's been all over Canada and England with me, it's gone with me to the Dominican Republic, to Cincinnati, and it gets thrown into the camper on our yearly fall holidays. I learned as a teenager backpacking across Europe with a friend that light is the only way to travel. The backpack I bought for that trip in 1983 stayed with me until five years ago when (with my husband's help) I finally threw it away. It was beyond dead. We waited in the alley on a Wednesday morning and when we could hear the garbage truck coming, we put it into the trash seconds before it was taken away. That way, I couldn't change my mind. I kept the barely readable Lugger label from my old one and sewed it to the front of my new Invicta. I'm not a pack rat, and I'm not really a sentimentalist about objects, but that backpack had been my literal travelling companion since I was eighteen. I admit to a few tears when I said goodbye to it. Thankfully, I have many goofy pictures of me wearing it in various countries of the world.
My husband bought me the Liverpool Football Club backpack from the LFC store in Liverpool on our last trip over there three years ago when I was launching my third book. I love that backpack, and wear it everywhere. It's a funky pack because I'm the only Canadian I know who has one. The only trouble with it is it just doesn't have enough pockets. I like lots and lots of pockets and zippers and velcro compartments. It's great for readings, day trips, quick trips to the Co-op (the one remaining grocery store where I'm allowed to bring it in) and library runs.
The purple Tundra was a purchase I made when I went back to University in 1995, and it's the one I always seem to come back to. It's slowly, relentlessly, falling apart. I regularly have to sew up a worn seam, and there is virtually no padding left in the shoulder straps. It's old enough that it is noticeably missing both the ubiquitous cell phone pouch on the right strap, and the hole to poke your iPod headphones through. I associate this bag with a great accomplishment in my life, so it never goes into the trash, though it clearly needs to. I used it yesterday. I learned how to shoot handguns as research for a book I'm writing, and the bag contained my camera, eight extra batteries, bug juice, my shades, a change of clothes in case the weather changed, a baseball cap, and my You Only Live Twice journal.
The black one with the big zippers is something I found on a (rare) trip to a mall. It was in a hair salon stuffed with overpriced styling products. I was drawn to it because of those crazy, impractical zippers, and because it's a roller and a backpack. I can tuck the straps in, pull up the handle and roll it behind me. I told the person there that I didn't want the expensive hair products, just the backpack. She looked at me like I had three heads and had to call the manager. Eventually, I talked him down to thirty-five bucks and was out the door. It's not good for much besides the farmers' market (but it's great for that). It just looks cool, and I still love those zippers.
I've only recently started occasionally carrying a briefcase around as I have a laptop now and none of my backpacks are suitable for it. The Parkland Regional Library bag was given to me by the PRL after my Writer in Residence gig with them this spring. It's nearly as good as a backpack but serves a different purpose in my life. I have a Homestar runner messenger bag as well, which I also love.
When I'm feeling very cheeky or feel like getting into trouble (at, say, a monastery), I'll throw a few things into my "Lookin' Good For Jesus" hold-all (given to me by an equally cheeky friend) and head out, enjoying the offended looks on the faces of the faithful.
My love affair with backpacks began as a practical consideration. When my friend and I were planning our trip to Europe when we were eighteen, we reasoned we'd want our hands free all the time to show passports, purchase metro tickets, race down train station platforms (as we were habitually running late for trains), and hug strange men. All of that happened. Since then, they are the only carry-alls that make any sense to me. My back is strong and I still like to have my hands free at airports so I can hug my friends as soon as I see them. Backpacks remove a lot of the stress of travel for me, as I only take what will comfortably fit into that Invicta (St. Pete's is the exception: a place where I unfailingly and inexplicably take everything I own). If I have to sit on it, I have too much crap, and something comes out.
There's an element of rebellion to them which I like. Occasionally, I'll walk to the Safeway for milk and take an empty backpack with me. No plastic bag and easier for me to carry home. I'm always stopped by security and asked to check it at the customer service desk. This has resulted in me asking to see the manager and showing him my empty backpack while women with purses the size of Arkansas come and go with nary a look from the security dude. I love to say, louder than necessary, "Is it the backpack? Do you think I'm a thief because I'm wearing a backpack? I resent the implication that..." etc. I'm regularly pulled over at customs desks and asked to take every pair of underwear out of the thing. I honestly believe that there is still an association between backpacks and nomadic teenagers languishing about on Greek ferries because they can't afford a berth.
I believe that my backpacks keep me young and travelling. There's still something about throwing a backpack over my right shoulder that speaks to me of adventure, travel, freedom, and youth. I'm a fairly seasoned traveller and I love the feeling of putting a backpack into my car on my way to an airport or to mom's place for a few days to play Scrabble. A decidedly middle-aged thing to do, but I'm an Eternal Teenager of the Mind. I put on my red Chuck Taylors, throw a backpack over my shoulder, and I'm eighteen, heading to Crete to throw that pack under a bed and forget about it for six weeks. If only they had that magical transport ability.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
The bag is home. The purse is a satellite. The purse is pure woman. The bag is androgynous. On occasion I want a purse but wriggle out of its corset shortly after it has made acquaintance with my arm and shoulder blade. What is this, my body asks? And I sigh. Purse. Even the word feels foreign on my tongue, moves my mouth in unfamiliar ways. Purse is then put in a mailer and shipped off to mother who after all is purse. The purse is always leather. Usually made in Italy and a dark shade of brown, or black, though occasionally red. The purse has two kinds of handles, a snap—or clutch and several compartments, little places for notes, rare coins…no, wait that is bag not purse. Inside purse she will put a comb, lipstick, bobby pins, several bottles of pills, rum and butter Lifesavers, a nail file, Wrigley’s spearmint, Rothman’s king size, a lighter—usually gold—and accompanied by an inhaler, a clutch wallet filled with 20s and a few 100 dollar bills folded in the inner reaches in case, just in case. That is the purse. That is mother. That is the essence of a kind of woman, a kind of Winnie, who is all-woman. No one but mother (and Winnie of course) has consistently carried a purse in my life and when I choose a purse it is usually because I feel I have grown up, or want not to be called Sir at the Fruiterie. The bag is androgynous, as I said, but it is also daughter, or young, which I don’t mind being, or being mistaken for. Getting young is always good. Especially after one feels grown up. The bag is roamer. The bag, usually canvas, is filled to burst with small stapler, pen knife, elastic bands, paper clips (round, Italian), pens and pencils, post-its, highlighters, Moleskine or otherwise, an envelope of photographs, a stash of postcards just in case, and stamps of course—many, often vintage, and from all over the world—some useful, some not, either way they will be licked and applied. It contains favorite titles: Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, The Life of the Mind, The Weather, Furious—most bags have drawn the line at The Making of Americans, or Ulysses—but there is always room for Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, or pocket-sized editions of Emily Dickinson and Sappho (the Mary Barnard translations alas, not the Carson…). It contains camera, cord, ear plugs, lipstick, lip balm, iPod, cell phone, protein bar, nuts and sometimes a laptop. Over the years the titles have changed, the journals renewed quarterly, the bag annually or so, the contents augmented by preoccupations and the growth of technology (now a cassette, now a cd, now a memory stick), but there is usually a bit of leaf, a twig, several small toys, extra socks, a lug nut found on a walk, a bit of shale, a map, a rusted pipe, a bit of bone, a cutting of something that needs replanting, a list of things to encourage, a list of things to leave behind, a key, library cards and metro cards, a passport and so on. The bag is never quite the right size, nor shape, and often tears before one wants, and there is always the memory of that one you didn’t choose. The bag haunting. The bags that other women chose. Or the bags that chose other women. Either way one is always a little disappointed. One regards other women, walking upright now, their shoulders soothed by the perfection of their bags, their fit, the right material and compartments. They are meeting each other for a glass of wine in a place of smooth surfaces and clean lines where they will drop their bags smug and plump at their feet, not even aware of their good fortune in finding one another, the good friend, the one that will be carried, or carry them from room to room.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
i came late and reluctantly to the handbag. had it been called a "hold-all" when i was a teenaged mall rat, things might have been different, but i associated "purses" with femininity, and femininity didn't square with my identity as hardisty junior high school's tough girl. nor did it complement my undergraduate identity as an ascetic smart girl, and femininity was decidedly antithetical to being a young lesbian in the late 1980s. you think hothead paisan carries a purse? no friggin' way. i strapped on the androgynous messenger bag and later, when i became a professor, carried the black leather bookbag ubiquitous to the profession.
i bought my first purse when i was around 30, and only because it was advertised as a trick bag. it came from the fetish store B&D Emporium and it was just big enough to hold a pair of handcuffs, an evening's supply of condoms, a little bit of makeup and your taxi fare. it cost, i think, $18 and was marketed to drag queens. i didn't ever carry its intended contents; i liked it because the velour leopard-print square was just big enough for my wallet and my lipstick.
the lipstick was the important bit. when newsweek broke the cover on lipstick lesbians back in the '90s, i put my ripped jeans and "i went to jail for rodney king and all i got was this crappy t-shirt" outfit away for good, and set about being myself. over the years, i've bought several handbags to go with my several dozen pairs of shoes.
i favour tiny, tidy purses. i travel light: wallet, keys, cellphone, pen and lipstick. most of my purses could still be slid into a messenger bag if necessary. honestly, i'm still a little scared of grown-up women's purses. the birkin is particularly terrifying. you never know what a straight woman is going to pull out of that thing.
Monday, July 7, 2008
In the book Handbags: The Power of the Purse, Anna Johnson says "Marked with life, stuffed to the gills, saved for, bruised, cherished like a child, a good bag becomes an intimate extension of the body." She says that the "cleft between respectable exterior and intensely private interior is what gives the handbag such erotic and transgressive charge. It is perhaps a woman’s last secret place."
There are many distinct forms that purses take - the handbag, reticule, chatelaine, pocketbook, grip, clutch, carpetbag, satchel. There are work bags, evening bags, book bags. Bags have figured prominently in works of literature and movies. Johnson describes the Beckett play Happy Days: "a woman’s whole life is (quite literally) contained within her bag; for Winnie, who’s buried up to her armpits in a mound of dirt, her handbag is her past and her only present – the sole prop to get her through the day." And who can forget Anna Karenina tossing her red velvet handbag onto the tracks?
Most bags look silly on me. They get in the way of who I am. People who know me best shake their heads when they see a bag on my shoulder. I never thought I'd see you with a purse, they say. It's not a purse, I snap back, it's a bag. I hate the word purse. Whenever I hear it I instantly picture lips, the kind of lips that make me wonder what's going on, what's going to happen next. Purse makes me anxious. A bag, on the other hand, is easy going. Down to earth. Relaxed. I carry a bag only when I enter an urban environment. There I feel out of place and contained, so carrying a container seems appropriate. It contains my excitement, my fear; it clutches my memories. It has to be sturdy.
Every one of my six bags was purchased just prior to a big occasion. It’s then that sturdiness becomes an issue. I bought the latest one in Regina this spring on the day of my book launch. It's big. The label said it's a chest. I placed my book inside and off I went.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Godey's 1855 revisited - crochet your purse with hat to match featured in Hiawatha instruction booklet, 1954.
This photograph is lifted from the blog post titled: "Please Don't Ridicule My Reticule! Purses from Clutch to Lug." I'm ever so fond of the sideways glance.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I have no formal background in art or art history, and that is exactly the point of the project: ekphrasis (the most famous examples include Homer's description of Achilles' shield, Shelley's On the Medusa of Leonardo daVinci, Rilke's Torso of Apollo, Keats' Ode to a Grecian Urn) has been mostly poetry's attempt to trump visual art. But as words put to music become lyrics, words put to art can become another literary incantation."