Category Archives: Prose & Poetry

Women in Clothes: The Survey

I’ve got all the questions below, but there’s no way I could answer them all, so I bolded the ones that I answered.

I’m 100% sure that most of you will be completely uninterested in this, but there’s a few who might like it and maybe you’d like to answer some of those questions yourself, just to be thinky and wordy, which are both good things to be.

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THE FIRST 20 QUESTIONS
1. WHEN DO YOU FEEL AT YOUR MOST ATTRACTIVE?

When I’m wearing clothes that fit well, in bright colours, with a bit of splash; and when my hair is behaving and I’ve got lipstick on and I don’t look like I haven’t slept in a month.

2. DO YOU NOTICE WOMEN ON THE STREET? IF SO, WHAT SORT OF WOMEN DO YOU TEND TO NOTICE OR ADMIRE?

Women who are doing their own thing, regardless of whether or not it’s a thing I would ever want to do.

3. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU ADMIRE ABOUT HOW OTHER WOMEN PRESENT THEMSELVES?

“That’s really interesting! I never would have thought to do that!”

4. WAS THERE A MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE WHEN SOMETHING “CLICKED” FOR YOU ABOUT FASHION OR DRESSING OR MAKE-UP OR HAIR? WHAT? WHY DID IT HAPPEN THEN, DO YOU THINK?

5. WHAT ARE SOME SHOPPING RULES YOU WOULDN’T NECESSARILY RECOMMEND TO OTHERS BUT WHICH YOU FOLLOW?

Right now, I don’t shop for clothes. In the past two years I’ve bought underwear, socks, and boots. Shopping for fabric is much more fun.

6. WHAT ARE SOME RULES ABOUT DRESSING YOU FOLLOW, BUT YOU WOULDN’T NECESSARILY RECOMMEND TO OTHERS?

It’s ok to clash.

7. WHAT IS THE MOST TRANSFORMATIVE CONVERSATION YOU HAVE EVER HAD ON THE SUBJECT OF FASHION OR STYLE?

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a transformative conversation about fashion or style, but it sounds like fun. Would anyone like to have some conversations about fashion or style? I can’t guarantee transformative, but maybe it’s like the monkeys and the typewriters and if we just keep banging away about it, we’ll transform.

8. DO YOU HAVE A UNIFIED WAY OF APPROACHING YOUR LIFE, WORK, RELATIONSHIPS, FINANCES, CHORES, ETC.? PLEASE EXPLAIN.

God no. How boring would that be?

9. ARE THERE ANY CLOTHING (OR RELATED) ITEMS THAT YOU HAVE IN MULTIPLE? WHY DO YOU THINK YOU KEEP BUYING THIS THING?

Red sweaters and pink shoes. Why do I keep buying red sweaters and pink shoes?

I think with the sweaters, I know I need sweaters to be warm and presentable in the winter, but the colour options are usually boring neutrals (brown, grey, black) … and red. I don’t want to get the neutrals so I end up buying red over and over again. I’ve forbidden myself from buying more red sweaters.

The pink shoes are a mystery. They’re more versatile than you might think, though.

10. HAVE YOU EVER SUCCESSFULLY GIVEN SOMEONE A PRESENT OF JEWELRY OR CLOTHING THAT YOU CONTINUE TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT?

Nooooo. I wouldn’t dare give someone a present of clothing. Too many opportunities to get the size and style wrong and feel like crap because you made them feel badly.

11. IS THERE ANY FASHION TREND YOU’VE REFUSED TO PARTICIPATE IN AND WHY?

Anything that does not allow for substantial bra straps.

12. CAN YOU SAY A BIT ABOUT HOW YOUR MOTHER’S BODY AND STYLE HAS BEEN PASSED DOWN TO YOU, OR NOT?

Well now there’s a pickle.

My mother’s body has not been passed down to me, at least in part because she’s still using it. Also, I’m taller than she is, usually a bit slimmer, and with smaller feet. She is still in denial of all those facts and insisted on buying me clothing and shoes, when I was younger, that fit her instead of me. As a result I had a lot of clothes that were too big and believed I was a shoe size 8 until after my daughter was born (I’m actually a size 6.5).

I know she also likes colours, as I do; she says she doesn’t care about clothing sizes but she cuts all of the tags out of her clothes, so I don’t know about that.

But we really don’t have much in common. This could turn into its own book-length dissertation; I’ll just say that I hope not much has been passed down to me, and I have a probably unhealthy tendency to avoid doing things that remind me strongly of what she would do.

13. HAVE YOU STOLEN, BORROWED OR ADAPTED ANY DRESSING IDEAS OR ACTUAL ITEMS FROM FRIENDS OR FAMILY?

I don’t think so.

14. WAS THERE A POINT IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOUR STYLE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY? WHAT HAPPENED?

Up until the end of grade 8, I dressed pretty much like an elderly bag lady. Please don’t ask why. I have no idea.

Between grade 8 and grade 9, I decided I should dress like a teenaged girl with a home instead.

I also got a job, which made buying those clothes easier. I had a green corduroy mini-skirt I wore a lot, and I cut off an atrocious perm I got in grade 8. And life got better.

15. IS THERE ANYTHING POLITICAL ABOUT THE WAY YOU DRESS?

No. I guess the fact that I don’t wear logos, but otherwise, I want people to have to get to know me before they know what I care about.

16. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR BODY.

It is perfectly adequate, except for the bum pancreas.

17. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR MIND.

Clever, sharp, analytical.

18. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR EMOTIONS.

Hypersensitive. Easily exasperated. Cautious.

19. WHAT ARE YOU WEARING ON YOUR BODY AND FACE, AND HOW IS YOUR HAIR DONE, RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT?

I am at home in my pajamas. Nothing is done. It’s glorious.

20. IN WHAT WAY IS THIS STUFF IMPORTANT, IF AT ALL?

It’s important because we think it’s important. If we didn’t think it was important, it wouldn’t be.

Humans are pattern-seeking and we like to find meaning in everything, including the patterns on grilled-cheese sandwiches and the way tea leaves fall to the bottom of a cup, so it’s not surprising we would find clothing important and try to find patterns in that, too. That we also make the clothes that we later look for patterns in adds more complexity to it; there are meanings there, but they’re not always accurately conveyed or interpreted. Goodness only knows what people think about me when I wear my red winter coat with my pink winter boots and gloves. Maybe they think I’m colour blind, or that I’m stupid. Really I just like pink and red together.

21. WITH WHOM DO YOU TALK ABOUT CLOTHES?

Other people who sew. And it’s all about patterns and fabrics. It’s a very different way of talking about clothing, because it’s more intentional and more personal, at least if you want it to be.

22. HOW DO INSTITUTIONS AFFECT THE WAY YOU DRESS?

I strive not to get arrested or fired due to clothing.

23. DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE TASTE OR STYLE? WHICH ONE IS MORE IMPORTANT? WHAT DO THESE WORDS MEAN TO YOU?

I hope I have style. It’s more fun. Probably I have neither.

24. DO YOU REMEMBER THE BIGGEST WASTE OF MONEY YOU EVER MADE ON AN ITEM OF CLOTHING?

Actual finished clothing–there was a fashion corset I bought one year before Christmas and then ended up with no fancy parties I could wear it too. It’s so pretty–I still have it. But it wasn’t that expensive.

Clothing-to-be–so many beautiful pieces of fabric that aren’t clothes yet. I feel most guilty about the alpaca flannel and the cashmere suiting. Gorgeous and expensive and sitting nicely folded in my fabric closet.

25. ARE THERE ANY DRESSING TRICKS YOU’VE INVENTED OR LEARNED THAT MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE GETTING AWAY WITH SOMETHING?

Fuzzy socks in boots in the winter, worn to work.

26. DO YOU HAVE STYLE IN ANY AREAS OF YOUR LIFE ASIDE FROM FASHION?

I don’t know. I’m not sure if my house is cohesive enough–or tidy enough–to count.

27. CAN YOU RECALL SOME TIMES WHEN YOU HAVE DRESSED A PARTICULAR WAY TO CALM YOURSELF OR GAIN A SENSE OF CONTROL OVER A SITUATION THAT SCARED YOU?

Yes. Once when I broke up with someone, and a week later we got together for coffee to talk about whether or not we could stay friends, and I wasn’t happy about having broken up with him, so I wore his favourite t-shirt to see him. It was yellow and had pleats around the neck and was very, very flattering–not tight at all but draped perfectly. We ended up getting back together. In retrospect that was a very bad idea, so I should have worn the stained concert tee, probably.

28. WOULD YOU SAY YOU “KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE” IN THE AREA OF FASHION AND CLOTHING? IF SO, DO YOU ALSO KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE IN OTHER AREAS OF LIFE, THAT IS, ARE YOU GENERALLY GOOD AT DISCERNMENT? CAN YOU SAY WHERE YOUR DISCERNMENT COMES FROM, IF YOU HAVE IT? OR IF YOU DON’T HAVE IT, WHY OR WHY NOT?

I know what I like. But I like an awful lot of stuff.

29. DID YOUR PARENTS TEACH YOU THINGS ABOUT CLOTHING, CARE FOR YOUR CLOTHING, DRESSING OR STYLE? WHAT LESSONS DO YOU REMEMBER? OR DID YOU JUST PICK THINGS UP?

Not even a little tiny bit.

30. WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DO YOU DO, CLOTHING OR MAKE-UP OR HAIR- WISE, TO FEEL SEXY OR ALLURING?

31. MANY PEOPLE SAY THEY WANT TO FEEL “COMFORTABLE,” OR THAT THEY ADMIRE PEOPLE WHO SEEM “CONFIDENT.” WHAT DO THESE WORDS REALLY MEAN TO YOU?

32. IF DRESSING WERE THE ONLY THING YOU DID, AND YOU WERE CONSIDERED AN EXPERT AND ASKED TO EXPLAIN YOUR STYLE PHILOSOPHY, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?

If dressing were the only thing I did, I would probably hurl myself from a tenth storey window. I also cannot conceive of a universe in which I am considered an expert on dressing.

33. WHAT IS REALLY BEAUTIFUL, FOR YOU, IN GENERAL?

Spring ephemeral wildflowers. That’s probably not what you meant, though.

34. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER VERY UGLY?

Concrete, and the entire aesthetic of “modernism” which seems to mean “let’s pretend that what is churned out en masse by machines has aesthetic value.”

35. ARE YOU GENERALLY A GOOD JUDGE OF WHETHER WHAT YOU BUY WILL END UP BEING WORN? HAVE YOU FIGURED OUT HOW TO KNOW IN ADVANCE?

Usually. But then also, when I am buying clothes I’m not buying very much, so I usually ended up having to wear it by the end of a week if I liked it when I brought it home or not.

I’ve learned that I do not have a body type that can buy cheap clothing. I know how that sounds, but it’s true. Joe Fresh, H&M, etc.–their shirts are two-dimensional and, past a certain bra size, a shirt that does not account for breast tissue is going to be unflattering no matter how cute the style or fabric.

36. WHEN YOU LOOK AT YOURSELF BEFORE GOING OUT, AND YOU ARE TRYING TO SEE YOURSELF FROM THE OUTSIDE, CAN YOU DESCRIBE A BIT ABOUT WHAT THIS “OTHER PERSON” IS LIKE? WHAT DO THEY LIKE, DISLIKE, WHAT SORTS OF JUDGMENTS DO THEY HAVE? IS THIS “OUTER EYE” BASED ON SOMEONE YOU KNOW OR ONCE KNEW?

37. WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS GETTING DRESSED IN THE MORNING? WHAT ARE YOU CONSIDERING?

Will I be able to sit for eight hours at my computer in this outfit and work comfortably? And does it look ok enough, in terms of professionalism?

38. WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACHIEVE WHEN YOU DRESS?

For work: I am a smart person and you should believe what I say.

At home: I am your loving mother; let’s sit around and read books together.

Most of the time when I’m out: I am a regular person who you can safely ignore.

Rarely, when I’m out: Look!

39. WHAT, FOR YOU, IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DRESSING AND DRESSING UP?

Dressing is putting on clothing so as to avoid being arrested once leaving the house.

Dressing up means arranging clothing, jewelery, make-up etc. so as to make a particular kind of impression.

40. IF YOU HAD TO WEAR A “UNIFORM” WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

41. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS “YOU” AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS “NOT YOU”?

I could not possibly answer this question. There are too many Mes.  Sometimes what’s Me is the tight pencil skirt with the rear flounce and a button-up snug peplum blouse with heeled boots; sometimes what’s Me is the stretch jeans with the concert t-shirt and a ponytail; sometimes what’s Me is a weekend in my pajamas, sewing.

42. WHAT IS YOUR CULTURAL BACKGROUND AND HOW HAS THAT INFLUENCED HOW YOU DRESS?

43. DO YOU REMEMBER A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU DRESSED QUITE DIFFERENTLY FROM HOW YOU DO NOW? CAN YOU DESCRIBE IT AND WHAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT FOR YOU?

44. WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DO YOU DO, CLOTHING, MAKE-UP OR HAIR-WISE, TO FEEL PROFESSIONAL?

Eye makeup. Hair back in a clip.  No jersey below the waist. No blue jeans.

45. HOW DO YOU CONFORM TO OR REBEL AGAINST THE DRESS EXPECTATIONS AT YOUR WORKPLACE?

46. DO YOU HAVE A DRESS CODE, A SCHOOL UNIFORM, OR A UNIFORM THAT YOU WEAR FOR AN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY?

47. ARE THERE WAYS IN WHICH YOU CONFORM TO OR REBEL AGAINST THESE UNIFORMS?

48. DO YOU FIND IT COMFORTING OR CONSTRAINING TO HAVE A UNIFORM?

49. WHAT IS AN ARCHETYPAL OUTFIT FOR YOU; ONE THAT YOU COULD HAVE HAPPILY WORN AT ANY POINT IN YOUR LIFE? WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?

50. DO YOU EVER WISH YOU WERE A MAN OR COULD DRESS LIKE A MAN OR HAD A MAN’S BODY? WAS THERE EVER A TIME IN THE PAST?

No.

51. IF THERE WAS ONE COUNTRY OR CULTURE OR ERA THAT YOU HAD TO LIVE IN, FASHION-WISE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

52. DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF PHOTOGENIC?

Not particularly. I have my moments.

53. WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF IN PHOTOGRAPHS, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

“I look tired.”

54. ARE THERE ANY FIGURES FROM CULTURE, PAST OR PRESENT, WHOSE STYLE YOU ADMIRE OR HAVE DRAWN FROM?

55. HAVE YOU EVER HAD A DREAM THAT INVOLVED CLOTHES?

56. WHAT WOULD BE A DIFFICULT OR UNCOMFORTABLE LOOK FOR YOU TO TRY AND ACHIEVE?

Boyish.

57. IF YOU WERE TOTALLY COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR BODY, OR YOUR BODY WAS A BIT CLOSER TO WHAT YOU WISH IT WAS LIKE, WHAT WOULD YOU WEAR?

I don’t think it would change much.

58. IS THERE ANYONE THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO ATTRACT OR REPEL WHEN YOU DRESS?

59. ARE THERE ANY DRESSING RULES YOU’D WANT TO CONVEY TO OTHER WOMEN?

God no.

60. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF PERFUME? DO YOU WEAR IT?

It gives me a headache. I don’t own any.

61. WHAT ARE SOME THINGS YOU NEED TO DO TO YOUR BODY OR CLOTHES IN ORDER TO FEEL PRESENTABLE?

A good bra.

62. HOW DOES MAKEUP FIT INTO ALL THIS FOR YOU?

I am usually wearing some when I go out. I have very light eye lashes that are not visible unless I put mascara on them, and it makes me feel self-conscious. Often I’ll wear some bronzey or coppery or goldy eye shadow. Sometimes lipstick.

Makeup can be fun to play around with. Unfortunately I have very sensitive skin that makes most products off-limits most of the time, unless I want to deal with major reactions. Yes, I’ve tried everything, including what you’re about to suggest. My skin just wants to be free.

63. IS THERE A CERTAIN LOOK YOU FEEL YOU’RE EXPECTED TO LIKE THAT YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST IN? WHAT IS IT? WHY AREN’T YOU INTERESTED?

Groomed eyebrows.

Yoga pants.

64. CAN YOU DESCRIBE IN A BASIC WAY WHAT YOU OWN, CLOTHING AND JEWELRY-WISE?

Hmm.

Jewelry, very little, most of it odd. Embroidered necklaces, hunks of rock on a chain, a sapphire hourglass, bright beads on strings. A ring from my maternal grandmother by way of my aunt that has a lot of sentimental value for me, and which only fits on my left pinkie finger. A gold or brass oak leaf vein tracing. A little brass bear and a heart on a chain. That kind of thing. This is making me want to go out and buy jewelry. Thanks! ;)

Clothing, I don’t think I can. I have clothes for all the different Mes.

65. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PIECE OF CLOTHING OR JEWELRY THAT YOU OWN?

66. TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING IN YOUR CLOSET THAT YOU KEEP BUT NEVER WEAR. WHAT IS IT, WHY DON’T YOU WEAR IT, AND WHY DO YOU KEEP IT?

A pair of Guess boot cut jeans that I bought when I was 23. They fit perfectly, when they fit, even though the knees are torn out and the ass is going. So I don’t get rid of them. Currently, they don’t fit, but I have hope.

67. LOOKING BACK AT ALL YOUR PURCHASES OVER THE PAST FIVE TO FIFTEEN YEARS, CAN YOU GENERALIZE ABOUT WHAT SORTS OF THINGS WERE THE MOST VALUABLE TO BUY?

68. IS THERE AN ITEM OF CLOTHING THAT YOU ONCE OWNED, BUT NO LONGER OWN, AND STILL THINK ABOUT OR WISH YOU HAD BACK? WHAT WAS IT, WHAT HAPPENED TO IT, AND WHY DO YOU WANT IT BACK?

69. IF YOU HAD TO THROW OUT ALL YOUR CLOTHES BUT KEEP ONE THING, WHAT WOULD YOU KEEP?

The one-piece jumpsuit with a built-in bra that would be somehow suitable for sleep, work, and relaxation, which I do not currently own.

70. BUILDING UP YOUR WARDROBE FROM NOTHING, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY THIS TIME?

71. WHAT’S THE FIRST “INVESTMENT” ITEM YOU BOUGHT? DO YOU STILL OWN OR WEAR IT?

Can I shoot whoever decided that wardrobe items can be “investsments”? They’re not investments. They do not appreciate and they do not pay dividends. Let’s kill this phrase forever, please.

72. WAS THERE EVER AN IMPORTANT OR PARADIGM-SHIFTING PURCHASE IN YOUR LIFE?

73. WHAT ITEM OF CLOTHING ARE YOU STILL (OR HAVE YOU FOREVER BEEN) ON THE HUNT FOR?

74. WHAT ARE YOUR CLOSET AND DRAWERS LIKE? DO YOU KEEP THINGS NEAT, ETC?

75. WERE YOU EVER GIVEN A PRESENT OF CLOTHING OR JEWELRY THAT ESPECIALLY TOUCHED YOU?

My grandmother’s ring.

76. DID YOU EVER BUY AN ARTICLE OF CLOTHING WITHOUT GIVING IT MUCH THOUGHT, ONLY TO HAVE IT PROVE MUCH MORE VALUABLE AS TIME WENT ON? WHAT WAS THE ITEM AND WHAT HAPPENED?

77. HOW AND WHEN DO YOU SHOP FOR CLOTHES?

78. DO YOU LIKE TO SMELL A CERTAIN WAY?

79. HOW DOES HOW YOU DRESS PLAY INTO YOUR AMBITIONS FOR YOURSELF?

I’m pretty happy with who and where I am, so most of the time, I’m dressing for the life I’ve already got.

80. HOW DOES MONEY FIT INTO ALL THIS?

Less than it should.  When I buy my clothes I go shopping only twice a year, so it’s cheap, relatively speaking. When I sew my clothes I am forever in the fabric store adding to my stash, and I end up spending a lot more money on it.

81. IS THERE AN ARTICLE OF CLOTHING, A PIECE OF MAKE-UP, OR AN ACCESSORY THAT YOU CARRY WITH YOU OR WEAR EVERY DAY?

Mascara. Insulin pump. Wallet.

82. DID ANYONE EVER SAY ANYTHING TO YOU THAT MADE YOU SEE YOURSELF DIFFERENTLY, ON A PHYSICAL AND ESPECIALLY SARTORIAL LEVEL?

When I was in grade 9 or 10 and walking home with a friend, we were talking–I can’t even tell you why at this point–about our legs, and I mentioned that my legs were long in proportion to my body, and if my legs were in proportion I’d be a few inches shorter. “It’s a good thing,” she said; “if you were shorter you’d be much too voluptuous.” I’d always thought of myself as too skinny and very flat, so it was the first time I’d ever thought of myself as curvy. It took a while to accept it, but yeah, voluptuous is (or at least was) probably not a bad descriptor.

83. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU WERE CONSCIOUS OF WHAT YOU WERE WEARING? CAN YOU DESCRIBE THIS MOMENT AND WHAT IT WAS ABOUT?

Nope.

Review: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes
Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I finally finished this book.

It took me several months to make my way through it; this was not, for me, a pick-it-up-and-finish-it-in-one-go kind of book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I have a lot of books in the slow-read category that I work my way through in bits and pieces over the long haul, sometimes years.

But in the case of Women in Clothes, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing, either.

It aims to legitimize the concerns about dress–what to wear, when, why, and what that clothing communicates–that specifically women have as something that it is possible for serious, intellectual and successful women to think about. It certainly makes the case that women largely do think about this whether they should be or not, and that women put a fair bit of thought into what their clothing says about them, their lifestyles, their aspirations, and so on.

But the sheer variety of voices somewhat undercuts the success of this central message: one of the things that is most inescapable to conclude after reading Women in Clothes is that different women attach different meanings to the same clothing, so we’re not all speaking the same language. It raises the question, what’s the point?

Unfortunately this question–and others raised by the book–is never answered.

The book is a (very large) collection of completed surveys (you can find it here) by about 640 women, as well as essays, photo essays, stories, conversations and interviews with women about clothes. I’ll be posting my own answers to some of the survey questions, for no reason at all really since I’m sure it won’t be interesting, in a couple of days.

Given the variety, there’s sure to be something in Women in Clothes that interests and resonates with you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a conclusion, or any kind of unifying discussion. I’m sure that was their point, but it was also a drawback.

The book would have been vastly improved if it were cut by half and organized in some fashion–by theme, perhaps, or socio-economic group. It’s an interesting book (in parts, anyway) but it could have been a lot better.

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I do have some sewing projects ready to post. I just need a weather-cooperative day off, and in the case of one or two garments, some hemming time.

Review: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first 25% of the book did nothing for me. It was a very dry recitation of the climate facts I already know, in graphic novel format. If you’re the kind of person who gets most of your climate news from the newspaper, this section may be more informative or interesting for you. But at the 25% mark I put it down and almost didn’t pick it up again. I had no real interest in reading 500 pages of climate science presented as speech bubbles on pictures.

I’m glad I did pick it up again, though (under pressure of a library returns deadline). Once the book gets into the author’s own struggles with and reactions to that climate science, it developed more narrative push. There’s still an awful lot of climate science–and interviews with experts in various political and social fields about the implications of that science for our reactions and in the 21st century–but there is also a story of his own acceptance of that information and the meaning it has for his own life, and how he reacts to it.

I don’t agree with everything that he or his experts say, but it was credible and well-informed and thoroughly researched, and I enjoyed it. I even learned something new! which is not a given for me at this point with a climate book.

That being: Did You Know that even if the nuclear industry developed to its fullest extent, the total possible reduction it could make to global carbon emissions is around 6%? Not the silver bullet it’s proclaimed to be. Interesting, no?

The art is exceptional, and there’s a lot of visual metaphor and meaning packed into his choice of imagery.

Anyway. If you are interested in the climate change issue, want to be more informed about it, and find climate change science books too dry or dense to read, this is probably an excellent choice. I’d highly recommend it.

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The Next Blazer, Eventually, While Analyzing the Walking Dead

I found myself in possession of more free time and less money in February than is typically the case, which I decided was the perfect excuse to figure out my next blazer, the Vogue 8333 Claire Schaeffer pattern.

After the difficulties of working with fusible interfacing on the poly-wool blue blazer I made in the fall, I decided to go whole-hog and go the hair-canvas/pad-stitching/tailoring route. This meant many, many hours parked on my butt with a needle in my hand, and how better to spend it than feeding a new netflix addiction?

Now: I cannot in any way watch horror and I have not been able to since I was in elementary school. I know that for most people it goes the other way round, but I aged out of my ability to tolerate violence and now if I see someone bleeding and in pain on a screen, large or small, I will probably have to get up and leave the room, or at least shut my eyes and try not to listen. This is precisely why I’ve never watched the Walking Dead before (that, and the fact that I would have had to pay for it, but the blood-and-guts is the big reason), but the villain in the last season of Farscape is pissing me off so much* that I can’t finish watching it and I wanted a new show to occupy my eyeballs during workouts and hand-sewing sessions. So the Walking Dead it is.

(Pro Tip: Do not watch the Walking Dead while holding a fresh hot cup of tea in your hand, unless you want to end up wearing the fresh hot cup of tea and mopping it off the table and floor.)

Now, I am an inveterate environmentalist with a long, long history of hugging trees and espousing the virtues of various squiggly critters, and that may (almost certainly did) colour my perceptions of, well … just about everything. But. That first long weekend watching The Walking Dead non-stop convinced me that the show is a thinly-veiled metaphor for environmental collapse.

(Shocking! I know!)

I’m in good company on the metaphor bit: The Walking Dead has been analyzed as a metaphor for just about anything people don’t like, from gun control to Obama’s America (I mean, seriously. People. You may not like Obama but you are not living in a post-apocalyptic landscape of zombies and disintegrating infrastructure). But every one of those think pieces (and there are a lot of them) admitted that the metaphor broke down on one or two key points.

But environmental collapse? It works pretty damned near perfectly.

For one thing, consider that over the past several decades, we’ve been obsessed with apocalypse. The number of apocalyptic television shows, movies and books has been increasing every decade, regardless of who is in the White House or whether government spending is going up or down. We’re very good at covering them up with just about anything but environmental collapse–alien invasions, robot insurrection, massive flu epidemics, nuclear warfare, and now zombies–but we are as a society spending more and more of our time entertaining ourselves with stories about the end of the world. I’ve made this point before, but in the 1960s, science fiction was about the golden age that technology and American Values were going to unleash on the entire universe, likely populated with savages who needed a good ray gun or teleporter.  The idea of coming out with something like that now–would you watch it? Could you now suspend your disbelief on something so optimistic?

Zombies, though, make a particularly good foil for anyone who wants to think about environmental collapse without consciously thinking about environmental collapse. Think about it: zombies are the past eating the future. The dead rise up and consume their young, in zombie stories quite literally. In the environmental stories that surround us every day, our past is constantly consuming our present–the industrial revolution devouring the climate, our forests, the oceans, the collapse of all of the world’s major fisheries, the coral reefs, and so on–and we are in turn becoming the present that is devouring the future mostly through failing to grapple with it all.

I’m not suggesting that this was a conscious decision on the part of the comic book writer or the show’s creators. But I do think that these stories, of what has been done to our present by our ancestors, and what we in turn are doing to our descendants, make a very fertile ground for zombie apocalypse stories to grow in.

I would also like to lodge a formal complaint that, for the love of god, where are they getting all this gasoline from? Why are they still driving around in cars? They live in a warm climate–hasn’t a single one of them thought to steal a bicycle?

Meanwhile, back on the blazer:

I’ve been using a combination of the V8333 couture instructions, the Craftsy class on classic blazer tailoring, stuff I’ve found in various sewing books, and chocolate. I made up two muslins (one full, one half) to check the fit and it was a bit of a bear, though starting with a princess seam is the way to go if you know you’ll be doing significant adjustments to the bust. The fabric on the real version is a wool tweed I picked up at King Textiles in the fall.

Dear Readers, Behold My Mistakes:

Ouch.
Ouch.

The Craftsy class suggested using muslin for underlining, whereas the pattern suggests silk organza. The Craftsy class also self-drafted the underlining pattern pieces for the shoulders and back, and they cover just the top area, whereas the Vogue pattern has the all of the main pieces underlined, including the sleeves. And–Vogue! I’m looking at you!–the pattern layout shows the underlining pieces laid out on the straight grain, and the first third of the instructions cover the underlining pieces and fusing them to the main fabric, and then buried as a “couture tip” a third of the way through the instructions they mention maybe cutting out the underlining pieces on the bias. Not funny, Vogue. Not funny at all.

Anyway, I used muslin because it was what I had, and I cut it on the straight grain because … that was what the instructions said to do. And I’m thinking that may have been Mistake #1, because I know I underlined the pieces properly, and yet this is what the back looks like. Which if that’s not stretched out wool (or shrunken underlining) I don’t know what is.

There is seam ripping in my future, I can just tell.

Otherwise it’s gone pretty well. My pad-stitching is a thing of beauty, or more like a thingless, because you can’t see it.

Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh?
Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh? Please ignore thready bits–they will be removed before it’s done. Also, that’s not top-stitching at the edges, it’s basting, and it’s all going to be removed.

It fits well.

The collar and lapel are joined in this weird backwards way I’ve never seen before.  I’ll cover that in a future post.

I added in the shoulder reinforcement as suggested in the Craftsy class.

Taming the corners of the lapels and collars followed V8333. I tamed the corners or the lapels etc. as suggested in the V8333 instructions, and it worked pretty well too.

Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!
Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!

~~~~~

*the villain in the last season of Farscape is a woman who defeats the good guys with some scent gland in her boobs that turns them into bumbling, hormonal, ragingly lustful idiots. Say it with me now: That’s Sexist! As well as boring and gross. And it just made me lose all interest in seeing where the show ended up.

Embroidering Stuff: Purses

If you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the pool of decorative hand-stitching, purses and bags are a great place to start.

You don’t need to worry about flattering placement, or layering other pieces on top of something embroidered if it’s dimensional, or whether or not it’s “professional” or “appropriate;” you don’t need to worry about fit (if what’s holding you back is spending a lot of time decorating something and then having the final product not fit well). And there are some really good books and patterns out there that you can use as-is, or modify to be more your taste.

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This is my winter work-bag. It’s a good size (almost, but not quite, briefcase-length), and the inside is the top of an old pair of blue jeans, so it’s got lots of functional pockets. I sewed the bottom of the jeans-top shut, gusseted the corners, added a facing to the top, then measured the outside of this to cut the outside pattern pieces, added handles, top-stitched and voila. Construction-wise for the bag, not very tricky (except for sewing through multiple layers of boiled wool and denim). But to me, the embroidery makes the bag.

The pattern is based off of one in Bags in Bloom by Susan Cariello, a really fantastic embroidered-purse project book that includes patterns and instructions for the bags and for the embroidery. I chose one part of a nice pattern and scaled it up for use on a slightly larger bag.

Another project from the book.Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Given the heaviness of the boiled wool, heavier embroidery fibres were called for: primarily yarn (as in, for knitting) in wool, bamboo and angora, regular stretch lace, perle cotton for the finer details, and freshwater pearls and glass beads in the flower centres.

No, working worsted-weight yarn through boiled wool was not the kindest project on my fingers, but the end result was so worth it; and if you started with something like heavy linen, cotton canvas or a good stiff silk, it would not be so hard on the digits.

I’ve heard that Bags in Bloom has been recently republished under another title; if the cover looks the same and it’s by Susan Cariello, it’s the same book. But there’s a few other recent embroidered-bag project books, and while I haven’t yet had a chance to make up a project from them, they both look very solid from my reading: Artfully Embroidered by Naoko Shimoda and Strolling Along Paths of Green by Yoko Saito. Both are Japanese craft books recently translated into English.

From Artfully Embroidered

 

Artfully Embroidered includes a variety of embroidery styles, and bag projects beyond purses, including coin-purses (above), wallets, tote bags, and so on. Strolling Along Paths of Green is more of an applique/quilting book, but the projects look beautiful.

From Strolling Along Paths of Green
From Strolling Along Paths of Green

If you find my bag amateurish, that’s fine, and you can exclude it from your memory for the next question:

Looking at them, do you think that either printed fabric or regular solid fabric would have been as lovely?

I don’t. You’d miss the texture that the stitches add, and the effects their fibres can create, whether shiny, sparkly, matte, fuzzy, or variegated. You wouldn’t have the same opportunities to customize, either; adding or omitting beads, shifting or outright altering the colour scheme, changing the scale of the image, using only a portion of the pattern. Certainly my work bag (and yes, I’m bringing it back in) would have been just a grey sack.

That grey bag is the one project I can count on to get a “You made that? You know you could sell those” response, including from gallery and store owners. Not that I made it for the approval of others, or that I would enjoy it less if I didn’t have it, and of course I have no intention of making them to sell. But it is something that, if executed reasonably well, adds a lot of punch to an otherwise simple and unremarkable project.

Review: Stumpwork Butterflies & Moths

Stumpwork Butterflies & Moths
Stumpwork Butterflies & Moths by Jane Nicholas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am incredibly impressed by the level of research in Jane Nicholas’s insect embroidery books. I don’t read them expecting to learn more about the critters she embroiders, but I do: The natural history and basic biology of the insects are included; she also includes the history of the use of those insects in art, design & embroidery; and all of the projects are based on specific species of insects, quite true to life, with background information on their classification, habitat, and life cycles. It blows me away.

I’ve now completed one of the butterflies–the Chalkhill Blue Butterfly.

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Below is a photo of an actual Chalkhill Blue Butterfly, to give you an idea of how realistic the embroidery is:

Wow, right?

The instructions were detailed, thorough and accurate. This time, I used a much finer gauge of wire, and it was much easier to couch to the fabric and buttonhole stitch over it.

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The instructions for shaded satin stitch in the wings also made sense, and made a final product that looked mostly like the photo in the book (any discrepancies I’m chalking up to my poorer relative skill level).

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The wings cut out well and inserted through the background fabric no problem, and the remaining instructions to embroidery the body and antennae were simple and accurate. Voila, the final product (beside the ladybug I embroidered from her beetles book a few weeks ago):

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Some imperfections to note:

-I didn’t have the stripey thread she used for the antennae, so mine are solid.
-I also didn’t have and couldn’t find 3mm beads for the head, so my head is not quite the right proportion for the body–still, I think it works
-I also didn’t want to pay shipping on the brand of chenille thread she used for the body, so I used a fuzzy thread I could buy locally. It’s not quite right but it’s better than the shipping charge would have been.
-And lastly, you can see the pencil tick marks on the background fabric showing where the butterfly ought to have extended to, according to the “finished size” photo/diagram. Mine is clearly smaller. I followed the patterns for the wings quite carefully, so either the photo/diagram of the finished project is a smidge off, or you’re supposed to buttonhole stitch around the wing shape, and not directly over it. In any case, it’s a minor thing, and won’t affect my ability to use the butterfly pattern on anything else I choose.

Five stars. I’m having a fantastic time with stumpwork so far. Yes, it’s small and fiddly, but the smallness means that each element works up really quickly, and I can see lots of potential for including little bits like these on clothing and bags and other projects.

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Review: Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message

Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message
Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message by Tara Mohr
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Boy, am I ever glad I didn’t pay for this.

Mohr’s heart is in the right place. She wanted to write a book that would help women overcome a lifetime of socialization and learn to believe in ourselves, so we can pursue our own big dreams and goals. And that is wonderful. But the execution fell apart somewhat.

To begin with, it is pretty well a standard self-help book, with standard self-help advice: make friends with your inner critic, find and follow your inner mentor, step depending on praise or running from criticism, deal with fear, stop undermining yourself, figure out what your big dreams and callings are, chase them down to the ends of the earth. All fine, so far as they go, but not earth-shaking. I’ve read enough self-help books over the course of my life to know that making friends with your inner critic is the first piece of advice offered in almost every self-help book, and whether you call it your Inner Mentor or your North Star or your Peaceful Place or your Future Visualization or whatever, finding it is always the second.

(Aside: I had three stages in my own self-help book journey: 1–I was young and proud and much too good for self-help books; 2–I was older and sad and decided maybe I could use help even if it came in the form of self-help books; 3–I am even older and either through the books I’ve already read or just the process of increasing curmudgeonization, I feel like I no longer need it. The Fuck-Off Fairy has been and gone; now I figure if I do something and it turns out to be ridiculous and everyone laughs at me, well, at least I’ve brightened their days.)

For another, the feminist portion of the book seemed half-thought-out, at best. She acknowledges the reality of discrimination and sexism in shaping our world, our lives, and our personalities, but then doesn’t really consider how that sexism will react to us in our new, fearless, uber-confident and self-mentored-up selves. If we are taught self-deprecation in order not to seem uppity, for example, it stands to reason that when we no longer self-deprecate, the world will not take it well. In my exeperience, one can absolutely expect a significant backlash to any move away from the feminine Norm of Nice.

Most of the research that forms the basis of the book is anecdotal and personal–of course, since this is self-help; one can’t expect double-blind studies and statistical correlations. However, it is less that convincing, particularly when some of the anecdotes are of the “I listened to my inner voice, and it told me to send my first ever written piece to Forbes, and it got published!” variety.

The chapter on fear, though, angered me.

Mohr states that really there are two kinds of fear: pachad, which is the fear of things that don’t actually exist, like monsters under the bed; and yirah, which is the fear felt when we confront the divine or other things larger than ourselves. Pachad we should ignore because what we fear isn’t real. Yirah is telling us we should move forwards.

You may notice that there is a distinct lack of any discussion of the fear of real, present and immediate threats, like sabre-toothed tigers, abusive ex-husbands, or the imminent prospect of foreclosure on one’s house. Both of the kinds of fear she does discuss mean, in her view, that you should move forwards towards your dream; but look, terrible things can happen and sometimes our fears are rational and realistic. The Universe is not a cosmic vending machine and we are not all guaranteed to have our dreams come true if we are nice people who want reasonable things. The worst can happen, and sometimes it does. Sometimes people fail, and it is irresponsible not to even discuss what to do when one’s fears are realistic or even probable, and it boggles my mind that however many people read this manuscript and no one thought to wonder about the whole fear thing.

Here’s my own personal advice on fear:

As yourself three questions: What is the most likely outcome? What is the best case scenario? What is the worst case scenario?

If you can accept the most likely outcome, if the best case scenario is something you truly deeply want, and if the worst case scenario is something you can recover from, it’s a good risk.

If the most likely outcome is not good enough, if the worst case scenario would crush you and you aren’t sure you could recover, or if the best case scenario isn’t amazingly fantastic, it’s probably not worth it.

By all means, do some research or talk to people to figure out what those scenarios are; but just plunging ahead on the expectation that the Universe takes care of people with good intentions is silly and irresponsible.

~~~

There was a time in my life when a lot of this book’s contents would have resonated with me and I would have dragged out my journal and earnestly completed all of the journaling prompts. If you are at that time in your life, I wish you good luck, god speed, and it almost certainly isn’t as bad or as scary as you think. Keep breathing. You’ll get there.

Somehow or other, I did; or at least, I think I did. I did more tagging of pages that I agreed with than tagging of insights–in fact, I didn’t tag any insights. Yep, still scared of things; no, it doesn’t stop me; the inner critic is still vicious but I just smile and nod at her and keep on plugging; praise and criticism don’t tell me what to do; etc. Maybe I’m just a smug and self-satisfied brat. In any case, I’ll be sending this back to the library, where it can hopefully inspire and console someone else.

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Review: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

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(sorry for that. i’m going through the tedious process of claiming my blog — yes, it took me forever — and apparently i have to include that in a new post. so)
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Naomi’s political lens is so focused that it’s blinding. This is less a book about climate change than it is about why climate change is now the perfect excuse to do everything she’s always wanted to do anyway (eg. scrap globalization, redistribute wealth), which is fine, but she ignores any contrary evidence. For example, she has a brief section on the brief flourishing and untimely death of Ontario’s green energy economy, which she blames 100% on the WTO’s decision on domestic content. The waffling and delays of government regulators on applications, the constant changes in direction, and the dead-set-contrarian politics of the mostly rural ridings where wind energy projects were to be sited were completely overlooked, but as anyone who actually went through the process can tell you, the domestic content reg change was the least of any developer’s worries, and came after years and years of frustrations brought about by the public sector.

She spends a great deal of time criticizing anyone else whose political perspectives change how they perceive climate science and solutions, but is much, much worse herself in this book. No information penetrates unless it conforms with her pre-existing beliefs. But the global carbon cycle is not sentient. It doesn’t care how carbon emissions are reduced; it doesn’t even care if they are reduced at all. It does not vote and has no political preferences. WE do; and so it’s up to us to make some decisions about if and how we’re going to turn things around. It should be a mark of deep shame to any thinking citizen in a democratic society that authoritarian China is pulling so far ahead in the transition to a renewable economy.

The flaws with This Changes Everything can be boiled down to two, major, fundamental issues:

1. She acts as if the private and public spheres were diametric and opposed, rather than almost entirely overlapping. A person who works all day in a corporation then goes home and becomes a voter and consumer. People move back and forth between the private and public sector in terms of employment all the time. We are not talking about two different species–the private, evil homo sapiens determined to ruin the earth at a profit and the loving, public homo sapiens trying desperately to save it. It’s all just people.

2. The public sphere is as complicit in this as the private sphere. The reason we do not have a healthy, thriving renewable energy sector in Ontario right now is because the people of Ontario didn’t want it. They had it, and then put the politicians of the province under so much pressure to gut it that eventually they did to save their mandate. The moratorium on offshore wind projects in Ontario is a perfect example: two (small) corporations were all set to do the assessment work necessary to figure out if their Lake Ontario projects would work or not, but the government made offshore projects in Ontario illegal because the voters in Scarborough demanded it.

This is a terrible book on climate change. You’d be better off reading almost anything else on the subject.

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Review: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryI may have mentioned that 2013 was a steamroller of a year, and that Hibernation 2014 was basically me burying my head in the sands of sewing until I felt like I could look at the world again. After about nine months of denial, I thought I might be ready to test the waters of environmental catastrophe again–and I was right!

Have no fear. We are still mostly sewing here. But also, I read a book about one of the Ends of the World, and I survived, and I think I can even write about it.  So I will.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with all of Elizabeth Kolbert’s writing, it is beautifully written, compelling, meticulously researched, well structured, and absolutely terrifying.

The Sixth Extinction (which is happening now–you can be forgiven for not knowing that, since it is so abysmally reported on) is the tale of the many and varied ways humans are causing this latest mass extinction event. They’re all here: prehistorical and modern-day overhunting; transmission of invasive species; habitat fragmentation; climate change; ocean acidification. In keeping with the evidence, though very much against the preferences of human psychology, the book ends on a despairing note. While humans do expend a great deal of energy in identifying and saving particular endangered species when they are particularly beautiful or otherwise beloved, that is in no way up to the scale of what’s required, and it is very difficult to see how this could be turned around.

From page 214: “‘As a brief aside,’ he went on, ‘I read this news story the other day. A place called the Vermont Center for Ecostudies has set up this Web site. People can take a photo of any and all organisms in Vermont and get them registered on this site. If I had read that a few years ago, I would have laughed. I would have said, “You’re going to have people sending in a picture of a pine tree?” And now, after what’s happened with the little browns [bats], I just wish they had done it earlier.” (This after a chapter describing the collapse of bat populations from White Nose Syndrome, and bat researchers revisiting former caves where bats numbered in the hundreds of thousands, now not able to find any, walking through the empty caverns on a carpet of bat carcasses.)

I wish everyone would read this, or at least become more informed about it; not because there’s anything we can do by becoming more informed (there almost certainly isn’t:  many, and likely most, species will simply cease to exist). But because an event of this significance and caused by us deserves to be marked and mourned while it is happening. A biotic Holocaust is underway all around us, every day, species and families of species being shoved into gas ovens as fast as we can manage it; and outside, we celebrate sporting victories and royal babies and new gizmos to buy. I can think of no more severe condemnation of human nature.

That's a toad, eh?
That’s a toad, eh? Look at those itty bitty fingers!

Frances and I like to catch baby toads in the spring. They are itty-bitty, and they hatch en masse, so if you go to the right place at the right time of year, you will find dozens or hundreds of housefly-sized frogs springing all over the place like rubbery crickets. They’re adorable, and fairly easy to catch, and most children are entranced at the sight of these tiny little froggy things. You can have one perched on a fingernail.

According to The Sixth Extinction, this may not last. Amphibians are the most endangered class of animals globally, right now, due to chytrid fungus, spread from the use of the African Clawed Frog as an early pregnancy test, as well as habitat loss and fragmentation, water quality issues, climate change, etc. Over thirty per cent of amphibian species are at risk of extinction today, and the extinction rate for amphibians right now is 211 times the background rate as a conservative estimate. These are animals that have survived every mass extinction event since before the dinosaurs, but they may not survive us.

When I’m not sewing, or embroidering, or reading (or working or cleaning the house or making dinner or whatever), sometimes I do papercrafting. Not scrapbooking, per se, but it could be altered books or altered photos or painting  or calligraphy or some kind of multimedia project. When I was feeling particularly down about environmental issues last year (occupational hazard when you work in the environmental field), I made this.

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At the time I thought I was exaggerating.

But apparently not.

And now maybe we need even more happy sewing talk than before.

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W.S. Merwin as nothing-in-particular

poetry month-12-7This one has no stitching on it of any kind, but I like it and thought it was a fitting way to end Poetry Month (though if I have time, I may squeeze in Dennis Lee as well): from W. S. Merwin:

The Laughing Thrush

O nameless joy of the morning

tumbling upward note by note out of the night
and the hush of the dark valley
and out of whatever has not been there

song unquestioning and unbounded
yes this is the place and the one time
in the whole of before and after
with all of memory waking into it

and the lost visages that hover
around the edge of sleep
constant and clear
and the words that lately have fallen silent
to surface among the phrases of some future
if there is a future

here is where they all sing the first daylight
whether or not there is anyone listening

W.S. Merwin is a nature poet too, at least sometimes, though unlike Mary Oliver he can be a good deal darker and sometimes writes explicitly on environmental destruction. But he does it beautifully.

I took a page I hated from a self-help book, gessoed it, painted it, stamped and stenciled it, then drew the calligraphy letters on with a brush, and mounted it on a bit of backing board to make it stiff. And now it sits on my bookcase, amidst piles of books and mountains of fabrics and notions and quilted blocks.

Something about thrushes seems to inspire poets grappling with finding joy and meaning amidst loss, doesn’t it? And the thrushes have no idea–they just sing.