I have the title! (for a book of short things I’m working on)
This is the-shirt I had made for someone who recently amused me with the edifying mantra that wordsmatter.
I am nothing if not an excellent listener.
It took the better part of two days to install.
Just over an hour to take down.
The weeks in between were a sheer loveliness of spending time with my own couches in a public space and meeting people and having conversations start out of the thin air of upholstery.
The woman who told me her grandparents were happy as clams all their livelong lives together and maybe not in small part because of the mickeys of hootch they kept down the sides of their respective armchairs.
Another who said her first couch was an old door on top of bricks (for legs) and a slab of foam with fabric wrapped around it and several pillows propped against the wall.
The couch someone had forgotten but suddenly remembered hauling from a curb in Whistler and how much they loved it for the year they lived there.
The people who left me postcards.
And the strangers who sat down and talked as though we were old pals.
The kid who told me that sleeping on a pullout feels like a vacation.
And the kids who came on the last day to play the lava game and the scavenger game and ran around looking for things in the photos… a fire hydrant, geese, a porch, leaves, a rock, curtains, stairs, a dog wearing sunglasses. I loved their names— Violet, Autumn, Pandora, Audrey, Lucas, Madeleine, Maxine, Susie… I’ve forgotten some, but not the boy with the glasses and the girl who was so painfully shy.
The friends who brought me greenteacoconutmilkmachalatte, and those who were there when wine was on offer. Friends who travelled a distance to see this show and those who couldn’t come but were there in spirit. (I felt that spirit!) To friends who gave up part of a Sunday afternoon to hear me talk about how underwear affected furniture design. And to friends I missed seeing… sorry I missed you! Thank you all for coming and making this experience exactly what I hoped it would be… a stirring of memory and invitation to story.
Above all, thanks to The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, and the amazing gift that is Gallery A, for allowing me and my orphaned furniture this time and space.
Putting rubbish to some good purpose is my whole thing, after all.
That, and writing mystery thrillers set in art galleries…
Installing the couch photos I learned four things.
1– I’m no Meg Ruffman with a power drill.
2– It’s an exhibit in a museum, an exhibition in a gallery.
3– I thought you only needed a bag of nails and a hammer to properly hang photos. Apparently, a magic formula is also handy, which has something to do with math and therefore will constantly be just out of my reach.
4– Gallery walls only look like ordinary walls. They’re actually lined floor to ceiling, side to side, with plywood, which means you can hang anything you want anywhere you want anytime you want and as often as you want without the whole thing falling down.
Which brings me to the idea of a possible mystery thriller, which I may as well write since I’ve been making notes about the comings and goings of people that visit the upholSTORIES show… and I have all those spare minutes between people (i.e. future characters) wandering in.
So here’s the outline, the who, what, when, where, why and how of my soft furnishings potboiler in progress… (SFPIP)
Who— The guy on a downtown heritage walk who takes a wrong turn and accidentally finds himself in a gallery surrounded by couch photos and couch memories and when asked if he has a couch memory of his own he chuckles like Errol Flynn and says oh, yes, he has, but it’s not something he can tell me. Har har. He does tell me he’s 86 and that his wife has Alzheimers and it’s hard for him, he doesn’t know how long he can continue taking care of her. I sit on the edge of a coffee table as he talks. He sits back comfortably against the cushions on a striped couch.
—The two women who hold glasses of white wine as they tour the exhibition and say what a great place it would be to have a dinner party.
—Three grey-haired women with walkers who, by the time I get there, have been sitting on the couches a while. They eventually totter off, having established it’s already 3 o’clock. They leave the cushions alarmingly askew.
—A man who tells me that after he left the chaos of the former Yugoslavia and moved here, the first thing he did was buy a couch from Leon’s.
—And the woman with the long white blonde hair, visiting from Manchester, who doesn’t say or do anything particularly memorable… she’s just so lovely.
What— A dinner party during which it’s suspected that the soup course has been tampered with. There is what looks suspiciously like a trace of gesso, a dollop of resin and a practically-impossible-to-see splash of Castilian brown in the otherwise scrumptious vichyssoise. The party is held on the eve of an 86 year old heritage walker’s birthday, in his honour. But will he make it to midnight? (Therein lies the mystery.) And I don’t mean will he stay awake that long… (therein lies the thriller).
When— The dinner party takes place in June. The weather is unseasonably warm, torrid even. The night is young. There is a full moon. Love is in the air. Or not. There is soup. There is definitely soup.
Where— A swanky gallery in a swanky town.
Why— Why a mystery thriller? (Because the world can never have enough mystery thrillers. Obviously.) Or why did someone tamper with the vichyssoise… in which case I’m hardly likely to tell you now am I…
How— Who knows. But based on the title you can guess it will have something to do with those genius gallery walls.
I was once invited to a costume party I didn’t want to go to but under pressure grudgingly agreed and at the last minute—literally minutes before we went out the door—I cut a hole in a white sheet and wore it like a poncho. No one at the party seemed to know I was supposed to be an angel. Where’s your halo, they said? Where’s your wings??
I don’t like costume parties. I find them uncomfortable for many reasons, not the least of which is that the whole point of the dressing up is to attract attention, which is counter to what I usually aim for at gatherings, i.e. to quietly blend in with the cheese table. It’s not that I’m anti-social. I’ll meet you for lunch in a heartbeat; it’s crowds of people not talking about anything that cheeses me off.
A scenario only made worse in togas and sailor suits.
But it’s not just that, there’s something else weird. Like clown-weirdness.
That said, here I am, invited to another costume thing. One where I will know almost no one. Theme: western. At least there’s that… I can wear jeans. And a simple shirt. And, lest anyone say I don’t have the right spirit for these things (which of course I don’t), I’d like the record to show that I went to Value Village and found a hat with a string under the chin and a black and white neckerchief.
I draw the line at boots.
I’m the Birkenstock Cowboy.
[cue the music]
Why did the green program start with blue boxes?
Why is the Canadian Tire logo a triangle?
Why is men’s and boy’s clothing made to fit so much looser than girls’ and women’s?
And can someone please design a better bathing suit…
Why does no one know the name of the first person who survived going over Niagara Falls in a barrel?
“There’s one famous study showing that women treated the exact same babies differently depending on whether they were dressed in pink or blue. If the clothes were blue they assumed it was a boy, played more physical games with them and encouraged them to play with a squeaky hammer, whereas they would gently soothe the baby dressed in pink and choose a doll for them to play with.” Valid point or bollocks?
Why do we need three title options for women: Ms., Miss and Mrs. and only one for men?
Why does *he* always drive?
What are there more of: snowflakes, grains of sand or blades of grass?
Is the book always better than the novel? Examples?
How best to handle the guy in the next seat who doesn’t realize his ‘space’ is only as wide as his legs unspread… without turning it into a ‘thing’ that ruins your movie/play/flight/bus ride?
Why is there no Toddlers and Tiaras for boys?
How do ducks keep their feet warm in winter?
Why is there no major religion where women are the leaders?
How is it possible for a work of literary fiction to be in such dire need of editing and still go on to win awards?
If I’m right (as I most definitely am) and you’re right (as you most definitely are), who’s right?
Tell me the beautiful bits, things I might not see if I walked where you walk.
More than ever.
And through the eyes of each other.
Tell me about the litter you pick up or don’t pick up and about the bike you once found abandoned in the woods just there and how you wonder where abandoned bikes go… and why ducks’ feet don’t get cold.
How he appeared at the window one day when your cat was sitting on the sill and they both nearly scared each other to death and how neither of them have gone anywhere near that window since.
And the splash of red you see in a bush, which you assume is another Timmy’s cup and when you get closer you see that it’s not litter but a bird.
Tell me about the man doing tai chi in the park and how you’re grateful for all the goodness he’s putting into the air. And how in the very same park someone left a hoover and a giant bag of household garbage.
Tell me it’s to clear your mind, to remind yourself there’s more than madness in the world. Tell me it helps you see that despite all the anger, fear and hate, there’s no value in anger, fear or hate because that’s not how things work, that’s not the essence of what we are.
Despite all appearances, that’s not the essence of what we are.
Tell me you walk to refuel because refueling is necessary… because this isn’t a time for idleness.
Tell me you walk because there is so much beauty.
And so much work to do.
It won’t work if it’s done only when it’s done en masse.
Or when the beautiful momentum of hundreds of thousands gives it credibility and air time. As powerful and important as that is.
It won’t work if we stop when the cameras stop and the journalists go home and we’re left with our own small lives and make the mistake of thinking what can I do… me… one tiny person?
It won’t work if after stretching to this extraordinary moment of pink power we let the elastic snap back into complacency and start supporting what’s easy instead of what’s right.
Pink is no longer a colour.
It’s an attitude.
Reclaimed at last from the retail aisles and Barbie accessories. Let it stand instead for kindness, equality, respect, truth. Let’s accept nothing less. And let’s find creative and clever ways to live it every day in our own small lives.
Also, let’s remember that however important it is, it’s not the only colour.
But maybe, just maybe… it can lead the way.
Equality. Kindness. Truth. Respect. Across the board.