fables of the reconstruction

In 1999 I moved to Porland, Oregon. I was on my way from Minneapolis to San Francisco with no money and a half-baked plan, and somehow ended up instead first outside of Seattle and then in Portland. Despite my domestic life being a train wreck (I lived with an ex-boyfriend and he was no longer a friend; I drank too much; I subsisted on mac & cheese; everything I owned was in boxes; I dated a guy with a girlfriend and we were literally busted together on a surveillance video), it was a freeing experience for me because I hadn’t ever intended to be there and had no idea how long I was staying, so I felt I needn’t bother with anything fruitless and exhausting like making friends, looking for a job I actually liked, learning my way around, going to school, repairing the friendship with my ex, etc.

Eventually, and without much effort, I did all these things. But instead of prioritizing them, I prioritized instead what I had previously considered distractions and peripherals: artwork and reading, going to the movies, exploring new neighborhoods, walking around in the rain. I spent a year there, all the while approaching life as someone who didn’t have any responsibilities and was between destinations, as if on an extended layover. I told friends later it was like going on vacation, losing my wallet and getting stuck there. And the result was unexpected: it was probably my most productive year ever. And so ever since then I’ve puzzled over how to regain that (odd and inexplicably magical) frame of mind. It’s really not that different than the way I usually feel, but the key is the lack of guilt about putting mundanity on the back burner.

What I learned from it is that the things that clamor for my attention and distract me from the things I “need” to do are probably the things I really need to do. I’m aware now that when my primary focus is on, for example, work, my creative life comes to a grinding halt, and I feel like I’m in prison. This doesn’t mean creativity and responsibility are mutually exclusive; that’s exactly the feeling that got me in trouble in the first place. (I had always felt some irresponsibility about being an artist, despite having gone to art school, which failed to clue me in since it temporarily made an honest woman out of me: I was supposed to be painting!) But it means, for me anyway, that if I’m sitting in the laundromat for three hours watching tennis balls pound the knots out of my down comforter, the real benefit of doing so is the story I write while I’m there.

This isn’t a radical approach to life: virtually everyone who writes about happiness or wealth says to take care of yourself first. Put money in a savings account, then pay your bills. Put the oxygen mask on yourself, then on your child. But something about it continues to feel wrong – wrong like being totally indulgent (binging, addiction), like spending twenty years worth of retirement money on a porsche. Why? We live in an especially work-oriented society, and (counterintuitive, but) also one that makes things really difficult for working-class people. We’re taught to try to climb ladders (to borrow a metaphor from Stephen Covey) but not to get off when we discover the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, or when (my metaphor) it turns out to be an escalator going down.

So, why the focus on work? I ask. A great quote from my brother: “No one says, on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time working.’” By work I don’t mean effort; I mean, more or less, punching a timeclock. Creativity is work. Relationships are work. Packing sandwiches for a picnic is work. But that sort of work brings tangible results, which are pertinent to one’s actual happiness and enjoyment of life. Life is holistic. Simply creating agendas and accomplishing them doesn’t get you very far; it might be important, or it might be busywork. Real work, important work, is whatever brings you happiness. And no one needs to tell you to do it; you just stand back and let it take the reins. What you do with the rest of your time (job, chores, sleep) is simply what you do with the rest of your time.

That was all a big spontaneous digression (yay! art imitates life imitates ...) and here, finally, is what I meant to write about. When I lived in Portland, I made frequent use of the city library’s picture file, which at the time was more or less unique to that library. They had a full time staff of people who cut stuff out of magazines and sorted photos, and you could look through, say, their “crucifix” folder and borrow photos to use as reference (or, on the sly, scan or copy). They had a folder on just about everything. I really missed it, until I discovered Google’s image search page. And now, even better, I have discovered (thank you Bree!) morguefile, which is kind of like having the Portland library’s picture file on my computer .. except with a little more room for error as far as the search terms are concerned ...

Here are a few photos I found.

When searching "mannequin"







And lastly, for your amusement, here's The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks, which is like a living, breathing chapter of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. And if you have read it (the book, not the blog) here's a review that I think is almost more hilarious than the book.

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