Sunday, June 7, 2009

Capacious Project - Shawna Lemay

I would love at some point to collect and publish the Capacious Project. And add to it as well! But for now, I thought I'd post my own 'purse piece.' This was first published by The Society, the magazine out of St. Peter's College in Saskatchewan.

Do Not Overdo the Bag
or
To Pursue and Peruse the Purse

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. - Virginia Woolf

The diary as a purse, a capacious hold-all. Or as a desk. Deskpurse. Let us not over think, not overdo, let us fling our odds and ends, let’s do it without looking them through, careful and nonchalant. The purse a diary, a place to stuff and zipper, still, those censoring angels. A test and a temptation, not unlike an accident – to spill the bag, to show contents, dwellings, the treasured scattered sprawl and patient sticky grunge of life. If I pour out what’s inside, give it a shake or two, and place the skin of it, the husk, the outwards of my inward, beside it, would you read the innards like a tea-leaf reader would? The guts and gizzards, the disruptive depths and darkness. My flingings and fonds. How to divine the accumulation, detritus, secrets, the stuff of circumstance with which we sally forth?

My pretty portable archive, my unconcealed weapon, my sturdy personal lost and found. Unafraid of theft, I sling my purse, I take it up rather than the sword, I arm myself, it clings to me, it swings from me. The purse, after all, takes flight, alights, is mightier than the sword. It’s in the bag, whether you call it belly, womb, paunch, vessel, gullet, black hole, nest, the heavy burden to the bruised portal of ourselves, our tranquil, intimate and far-off selves, we carry, relentlessly, courageously, absent-mindedly. Or maybe I’ll call it handbag, clutch, reticule, pouch, pocketbook, balantine, sac, postal bag, duffle, rucksack, messenger, grip. Workbag, evening bag, dance bag, saddlebag, Kelly bag, carpetbag. Backpack, chatelaine, baguette, hobo, satchel, petite portmanteau. Bracelet bag, lunchbox, boudoir bag, miser bag.

Is your bag a beauty factory? a shield? a companion? Does it transform, transport? How much power does your purse pack? Is it a status symbol, a fad, a trend? A fake, a copy, a rip-off, a knock-off? Does it clutch and snap and clasp? Does it thump and flap and spend? Does it keep its secrets? Know when to spill? Do you carry it, lug it, tote it, or schlep it? Do you travel light? What does the bag know? It reminds me that I know nothing. The purse provokes lists. What do I carry? Lists. The list of things I carry, stuff, secrete, stash, begins with lists. Grocery lists, eggs, butter, cilantro. Lists of office supplies, notebook, Faber Castell pen – superfine, sepia. Lists of books I hope to acquire, always changing. All these lists of needs, wants.

And then, purse lists. A list of alternate or additional uses: stake out territory such as a table in a bar, seat in a movie theatre. In old movies, spill partial contents at the foot of dreamboat in hopes he will kneel to help pick up. A well-stuffed purse is excellent at bridal showers where that game is played, objects called out and whoever can produce the most from the depths of their handbag, wins. A list of words to describe: beaded, brocaded, embellished, worn, crushed, creased, bruised, embroidered, crocheted, studded, feathered, fringed, bejewelled, sequined, gilded, rhinestoned, mosaiced, modpodged, decoupaged. List of possible materials: velvet, silk, crepe, recycled plastic, newspapers, books, leather (all varieties of hide), plastic, canvas, tortoiseshell, metal mesh, straw, wicker, papier-mâché, lace, mock croc. A list of words used to advertise handbags: vintage, flimsy, fancy, slouchy, ornate, cheap, cheeky, flamboyant, chic, humble, durable, bulky, sleek, chunky, iconic, functional, luxurious, formidable, reliable, handy, strappy, smug, witty, thrifty, monumental, classic, coquettish, modest, elegant, discreet, graceful, clever, coy, natty, extravagant, vital, delicate, glamorous, retro, eccentric, cartoonish, staid. A list of things not to do with your purse: forget it on the roof of the car, leave it in plain view in the car, hold it loosely in the mall, carry large sums of cash, set it on the floor of the restroom (you’ve seen that email going around about purses and germs haven’t you?), leave the zipper open and then pick it up awkwardly dumping all the contents, this common candor, forget to move your wallet from evening bag to everyday bag discovering this only when at the grocery store check-out with a week’s worth of groceries including vast amounts of frozen items. And, as Winnie says, in Beckett’s play, “do not overdo the bag, Winnie, make use of it of course, let it help you...along, when stuck.”

These lists are my secret unreachable, remote, somnolent plot and in amidst the quivering lists, there happen to be things. Useful things, things that comfort, things to mull over, treasures in the depths in which to lose oneself. My hand reaches, reaches in. Finds. Into the trembling breath of the bag, the bag breathes in and out, sighs in silent splendour with each unclasping, unzipping, unsnapping, unfolding, unflapping. And things, things endure, escape me, are elusive and clamorous and fragmentary.

A map of Venice, postcard of the (maybe) Vermeer Girl in the Red Hat, mandala to colour, nautilus shell cup, silence, a nearly ripe pomegranate, bronze skeleton key, catalogue to the Museum of Purses and Handbags in Amsterdam, Norman Bryson’s Looking at the Overlooked, Dahlia Ravikovitch’s The Window, The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector, a French loaf, squares of Ghirardelli espresso chocolate, Faber-Castell pens, embroidery floss, sequinned Venetian mask, peace prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, photos of Chloe, lozenges suitable for lolling on the tongue while reading poetry, floral perfume, cornflowers, patch of green grass, curl of birch bark, lemon scented candle, beribboned bundle of cinnamon sticks, box of long matches, fragile anguish, patience, an exultation of cinnamon hearts, sheet of beeswax, suspicion, uncertainty, complicated version of hope, imperturbable exuberance, cocoa powder stained recipe for red velvet cake, various definitions of feminism, tubes of paint, manifesto and its multiple revisions, a clear path untrodden, jar of jewel-toned glass tesserae, thrilling ambition, case of champagne, tin of powdered sugar dusted hard candy, a complicated embrace, a crazed vision, escaped thought, the word on the tip of my tongue, miniature statue of Nike of Samothrace, inconsistencies, hummingbird feather, leap of the tiger, chipped teacup, fan, charm, a bit of bramble, a ramble, digital camera, narrow and devastating vial of beads, limoncello, diadem, a juicy oozing pear with an awkwardly elegant stem, Sanditon by Jane Austen to remind me of the unfinished, thread from the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, a reliquary to hide-display something beautiful I once spit out the glittering sheen of, broken strand of silver pearls, iron dragonfly paperweight, a snapshot fairly close-up of my changeable mismatched eyes superimposed against a snowy backdrop, letraset, one scuffed ruby slipper, graham wafers, white silk scarf and big owlish prescription sunglasses, cool glass of water, various lipsticks chosen because of their names dream for example, a lump of lapis lazuli, another picture this time of the angel wing I once found inhabiting a snowdrift, crumbs(pound cake, cupcake, morning glory muffin, dense bread), a wedge-shaped core of darkness, a muddy bird’s nest, a beehive (humming), a bird cage (door flung open), an exhaustive answer, a Hallelujah.