Category Archives: Passion

Boot Camp!

Snowy days, reflections & free time

yield memories of things outgrown

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

Housebound by snowstorm Stella and disinclined to wield a shovel against the cold confection piled like meringue across her driveway, poet Sarah Freligh chose, instead, to fight the weather with words.

She challenged fellow writers on Facebook to a Snow Day Boot Camp: “Make a list of things you’ve outgrown,” she wrote. “Start with concrete objects like jeans, bras, and pencil skirts, then move to the more abstract—mean friends, bad habits, worrying about how your hair looks in Wegmans. Then write a poem/flash fiction or nonfiction that follows your list—what you’ve outgrown, what you can feel yourself outgrowing.”

To add aerobic intensity, Sarah set a deadline—30 minutes. Other than shoveling snow, there’s nothing like a deadline to get the heart pounding.

The challenge—things you’ve outgrown or are outgrowing—was a natural for Resale Evangelista. We’re all about simplifying and clarifying to create a more artful life. Most of the time, that means recognizing what is no longer needed and throwing it overboard. Sounds simple, but it’s not.

Little girls across the ages experience First Communion

The author and her mother, each after their First Communion, 50 years apart.

I tuned in late, so had nothing to contribute. But many others did, and the results were striking—fond farewells to everything from patent leather First Communion shoes to grateful goodbyes to the miseries of youth, like this from Julie Mellen Damerell:

submerged in snow, remembering
white patent leather shoes I wore for my First Communion
the day Grandma gave me the gold watch I lost in a year

that tan and white shift with matching coat I wore to Easter mass
not knowing Grandma’s money would not buy Sunday dress again

those three-inch heels I wore to prom and the sprained ankle

red and white checked bell bottoms I sweated in at the pool party
too embarrassed by my thirteen year old body in a bathing suit

buried in all that white, fear that I would not have a thirteen-yea old body
or hope that heels, a matching coat, or bell bottoms would make me
good enough

Outgrowing the angst as well as the ankle socks

Sarah Freligh is the award-winning author of two books of poetry, Sort of Gone (2008, Turning Point Books) and Sad Math (2015, Moon City Press), winner of—among other accolades—the 2015 Moon City Poetry Award. She’s a former sportswriter and colleague of mine at the Philadelphia Inquirer, now teaching creative writing at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.—a city which is always a contender in the annual ranking of snowiest U.S. cities. One learns that the necessities of life in Rochester include lap-cats, wine or hot chocolate (depending on whether it’s before noon or not), and something to keep the mind from slipping into a snow-glare  daze. Hence, Sarah’s impromptu Boot Camp for writers. She was feeling magnanimous, so she extended the usual 12 minutes to a full half-hour.

The great thing about this snow day concept—Things I’ve Outgrown—is its acknowledgment of emotional as well as physical mementos of the past. The parallels to editing our surroundings are inescapable. There are emotional costs and benefits—sometimes both—when you decide, or are forced, to pitch a bit of history: furniture imbued with fond memories, valued or valuable detritus from failed relationships, books associated with a certain time of life, a treasured tidbit from childhood.

Poet Jessica Cuello, author of Pricking (2016, Tiger Bark Press) and Hunt, winner of the 2016 Washington Prize from The Word Works (as well as other prizes, awards and fellowships), captured that mix of things and emotions lost or outgrown, starting from childhood.

Little Lulu with the stitches
where my brother bit her foot off,
the banana seat bike.
The Little Nutshell Library: “There once was a boy
named Pierre who only would say I don’t care.”
The key to the 4th grade diary. The diary.
The cut out obituaries.
The track ribbons. The letters
back and forth where I lost my best friend (No,
not those yet.) The journals from each year—
shame written in them.
The nursing pump, The Boppy, the kids’ art pieces
that must be thrown out secretly.
My appendix, mole on my breast,
my windpipe, esophagus,
left hand from grading, dinner with my mother,
mortgage, teaching roster,
responsibilities, body.

 Speed-writing lets hidden feelings leak

One of my favorite quotes (not to mention one of the few I can remember) is from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe:  “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I bring it up because, as I said, I appreciate the forced-march nature of a deadline. You have to think fast, but not too deep. Paradoxically, the speed sometimes uncovers a thought or feeling you couldn’t capture if you were thinking too much or too long. There’s always time to refine later.

This may sound crazy, but you could take the same approach to your linen closet or tee-shirt drawer. Fifteen minutes, no stopping to consider whether the excess towels should be saved for summer beach visits, or if the shirt from the first Rolling Stones retirement tour really is a piece of history. Pitch it, move on. Unlike the snow day writing assignment, you could have a buddy on hand to intervene when you hesitate over the well-worn baseball cap that reminds you of your first love.

Another striking thing about the flash-art that came out of the Snow Day Boot Camp is the sense of place and time evoked by the writers. Sarah Cedeño has lived in Brockport, N.Y., her whole life. She described her childhood in an interview with the Missouri Review: “I spent a lot of time in my parents’ back yard growing up, digging up potato bugs and playing with poisonous berries.  We didn’t vacation.  I didn’t do summer camp.  I made friends with two girls who went to the church across the street from my parents’ house when I got bored of my best friend, who lived next door.”

I so remember that kind of childhood. I don’t know how she managed, in 30 minutes, to convey both the placid beauty of that small town life and the occasional frustrating limitations, in this, her Boot Camp memory:

I’d outgrown my childhood playhouse years before. I watched it dismantled when I was in college: my father, with a hammer, while my cousin’s husband and his twin daughters watched, ready to rebuild in their own yard. Me, I was up the hill at the kitchen window—counting it all: the plywood, the shingles, the sign that said “Sarah’s Place” in rainbow font, the rainbow font like a fantasy.

I’ve outgrown a toy chest I used to hide in on the front porch with Hulk Hogan and Godzilla, Barbie and Gumby, the crayons I wrote my name with above our doorbell, that humid, screened-in space between home and not. And my sister’s hand-me-downs, shrunken and pale with too many washings. Wine coolers in flavors like raspberry dazzle and chillin’ cherry. I’ve outgrown beer that isn’t pretentious.

I’ve outgrown straightening my hair on the regular, dying my hair lighter or darker or red, fingernail polish in any shade. I’ve outgrown time like I have (outgrown)  four identical pairs of leather boots and about a million dreams, I’ve outgrown silence and a well-placed smile over my open mouth.

My skin has become tight, and whoever said you grow into yourself is full of shit— I grew through my own skin, and some mornings I want to rip and run out of it, but the sidewalks are too short and the road too long.

I didn’t start out to compare the process of a writing boot camp with the process of simplifying and clarifying life through the act of decluttering or downsizing—I thought this post would be all about the content. But it seems a natural fit. And I’m not the only one who noticed. One of the last comments on Sarah’s FB post came from Barbara Hammon.

“OMG!!,” she wrote. “I’m too late to play, but only because I was cleaning out my pantry and disposing of homemade pickles from ’02, cans of soup my past boyfriend bought (I don’t eat canned soup and he’s been gone almost 3 years), and multiple unrecognizable stuff. My pantry is cleaned and reorganized and ready to face the next decade. One room at a time.”

“So,” Sarah replied. “You did do the prompt.”

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. That often requires recognizing what you’ve outgrown and need to pitch, to make room for something else–maybe even just space! I’d love to hear what you’ve decided you’ve outgrown. Or maybe there’s something you suspect you may never outgrow? 

Breaking up is hard to do…

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.16.32 AM.png

Image from the Museum of Broken Relationships, Los Angeles

Not to mention, getting rid of the mementos left behind!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

What do you do with the detritus–or cherished mementos–of lost love?

Sure, you can burn the wedding photos, toss left-behind t-shirts that still smell of your lover, donate the books once read together to charity. But what about the most intimate symbols of your intense love or overwhelming heartbreak–the things that demand a more dramatic gesture to mark the end of the relationship?

I’ve just discovered the solution–the  Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles. Opened just last year, it is already the repository for, among other keepsakes, silicon breast implants that–once removed–signified freedom to their previous owner (wearer? implantee?); a blue dinosaur pinata that was one lover’s first birthday gift to another, and a piece of belly button lint preserved in a small plastic bag.

The label on the lint reads: “D’s stomach had a particular arrangement of body hair that made his belly button prone to collecting lint. Occasionally, he’d extract a piece and stick it to my body, sweaty after sex. One day … I met his oddity with my own; I put the lint in a small bag and concealed it away in the drawer of my bedside table.”

Love is strange.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.11.29 AMThe original Museum of Broken Relationships was opened in Zagreb in 2010, established by two Croatian artists who decided to celebrate their love affair, according to a delightful article in The GuardianLos Angeles lawyer John B. Quinn was captivated by the emotions stirred by the exhibits in Zagreb and decided to open a local branch in the home of a bankrupt Hollywood Boulevard lingerie shop, formerly decorated with leopard-print carpet and red velvet dressing rooms. Donations were solicited with an ad that read:  “Unburden the emotional load. Don’t throw away the debris of your romantic exploits – give it to us.”

The texts, wrote Laity, have a compressed power a bit like a short story.  “I spent an entire summer making this birthday present, and he left it in my car”; or “You … did not want to sleep with me. I realized how much you loved me only after you died of Aids”. Some are little narratives of failed promise: “We met at a bar in NY; I lived in LA. 3 drinks, 2 poems, 1 walk later, we had sex on his friend’s couch … We saw the northern lights, but they were not as bright and vibrant as we thought they would be.”

Not every item memorializes lost romantic love. One of the most heartbreaking is a fake gold charm bracelet that once belonged to a daughter abandoned by her father–a souvenir from what she said was the best and the worst holiday of her life.  “Disney World 1977. You stood at the entrance and promised to bring us back there one day. Mum told you not to make promises you can’t keep. I have given up trying to make sense of your rejection of your two little girls.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.21.10 AM

Image from the Museum of Broken Relationships, Los Angeles

Can you imagine how cathartic it must be to boil a broken heart into a few words attached to a small object, then mailed to the Museum of Broken Relationships? Talk about clarifying and simplifying! And yes, the museum does accept donations.

I can’t think of a better resting place for these objects–things that we all, no doubt, are harboring with the knowledge that they deserve a dignified disposal, a metaphoric Viking funeral.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, Facebook is at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California.

 

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes that includes getting rid of emotional, as well as physical clutter!

 

Three Little Words:

Vintage Chanel JewelryVintage Chanel Jewelry

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Do not miss this: Chanel Vintage Jewelry show, Aug. 9, 2014, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Marlene Vitanza, owner of Peregrine Galleries, is celebrating the gallery’s 30th anniversary with an exhibit and sale of vintage Chanel jewelry. The collection was  originally owned by a long-time employee of the fashion house.

The tiny Peregrine Galleries, in Montecito, CA (home to Oprah, as well as other celebrities) is a destination for anyone interested in fine vintage jewelry, especially designer pieces by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and Miriam Haskell. Marlene is also nationally known for her premier collections of silver jewelry by Georg Jensen,  William Spratling, Hector Aguilar, Antonio, Margot, and Los Castillo, as well as paintings by masters of California plein air painting.

But for this big anniversary, she is pulling out a never-before-seen collection of Chanel pieces, the likes of which Mademoiselle Coco herself would be proud. In addition to hard-to-find and limited edition runway jewelry, the collection includes several couture Chanel jackets. The collector worked for Chanel in the 1970s, loved the jewelry and amassed many rare pieces.

Beyonce & Beyond: Everyone loves Chanel
Beyonce & her Chanel birdcage earrings

Beyonce Knowles, wearing Chanel birdcage earrings.

Looking for the iconic Chanel birdcage earrings with Chanel’s CC logo dangling inside, designed in the 1980s for a runway show? You can find them–or could–at Peregrine Galleries.

Mother-of-pearl earrings the size of a quarter, trimmed in gold-tone metal to look like turtles? Will the cuff with poured glass beads make your hands tremble, your heart palpitate? There they are in the case, along with ropes of Chanel pearls and gold chains embellished with variations of Coco’s favorite lion’s head motif–her astrological sign.

Marlene has been buying Chanel jewelry for about 20 years–and only regrets that she didn’t buy more early on. “I can’t tell you how many pieces I passed up that I would be thrilled to find now,” she says.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same”  Coco Chanel

Marlene divides her Chanel collectors into three groups: Those who want original Chanel, but nothing visibly sporting a Chanel logo; those who want original Chanel, but only pieces with subtle logos; and those–many young people and many celebrities–who want the biggest and most visible logos possible.Vintage Chanel Earrings

Coco Chanel gained fame not only for her iconic knit jackets, with chain trim and demure pockets, but also for popularizing the suntan, wearing costume jewelry as a means of self expression, and articulating a philosophy of authenticity, rather than pretension.

Many of Mademoiselle Chanel’s thoughts (my thanks to Brainy Quotes) are as relevant now as the day she uttered them:

  • “Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
  • “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.”
  • “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”

And a personal favorite of The Resale Evangelista: “Elegance does not consist of putting on a new dress.”

Marlene Vitanza & Vintage Chanel collection

Marlene Vitanza, owner of Peregrine Galleries in Montecito

I’m going to write a lot more about Marlene in later posts. I’ve been visiting both her gallery in Montecito and the one her late husband had in Santa Barbara for many years. I was first attracted by the mid-Century plein air landscapes by California artists. But Marlene is known nationwide as an important dealer in Taxco Mexican silver jewelry and Native American jewelry and as an early and prolific collector of Bakelite. And she’s just fun to talk with, generous with her time and knowledge. I’m so sorry I won’t be in Santa Barbara for the  opening celebration of Peregrine’s anniversary.

 

If you are anywhere in the vicinity, either that evening–or for that matter, any time–stop in and browse.

About Peregrine Galleries

 

Something different–a journalism tale

Nate Thayer, crossing a river in Cambodia

Nate Thayer, in Cambodia

Sympathy For The Devil

A Journalist’s Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a letter from the Pope, if the guy with the AK-47 has been told not to let you in, then you are not going anywhere…”
Nate Thayer
“He chews tobacco, has a five-o’clock shadow, and knows his weapons. Nate Thayer is a swashbuckling reporter who has a reputation for landing himself in the middle of the action … And no one who knows Thayer was surprised that he was the one who landed the big story.”
The Boston Globe

I haven’t met Nate Thayer, but I’ve been following his blog and reading excerpts from Sympathy For The Devil for several months. I never wanted to be a war reporter–my ideal foreign bureau would have been London or Paris, since I don’t even like humidity, let alone slogging through jungles or being blown up by landmines. But Thayer’s accounts of the years he spent covering Cambodia and tracking Pol Pot are, by turns, heroic, absurd, tragic and hilarious. It is, or should be, every journalist’s dream to have so much influence and so much fun covering a beat with so much passion.

He relished the role of “larger-than-life swashbuckling reporter,” but earned respect for routinely reporting what would have been for other journalists once-in-a-lifetime scoops, according to Urban Lehner,  who was executive editor of Dow Jones in Asia while Thayer reported for the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. “His editors never knew where he was but they knew they could count on him for major scoops,” said Lehner. A staff writer for the New Yorker described Thayer as a combination of “a slightly spooky, great raconteur” and “hardcore investigative journalist.”

All of which is to say, I think it’s worthwhile for you to check out his blog and consider supporting his efforts to finish and publish Sympathy For The Devil.

After all, isn’t having a driving passion one way of defining a simple life? This post is adapted from Thayer’s website, Nate-Thayer.com.

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

Nate Thayer is best known as the freelance journalist who emerged from the Cambodian jungle in 1997-98 with the last photographs, the last interview and then with definitive evidence of the death of Pol Pot, the despotic and deposed leader of the Khmer Rouge. (Although last year, Thayer stirred up a widespread publishing world kerfuffle—one of his favorite words—when he complained about the financial exploitation of freelance writers by big-name, for-profit publications.)

His Pol Pot coup, published in the Far Eastern Economic Review (and around the world in other publications) was the culmination of nearly two decades reporting and writing about Cambodia.

Thayer, now living in Washington, D.C., is finally getting around to chronicling his quest to find and confront Pol Pot regarding the slaughter of 1.8 million Cambodians.

“I was convinced that, one day, I would meet Pol Pot face-to-face and he would have to answer the questions that haunted his broken countrymen,” Thayer writes in Why Journalism is Better than a Real Job: Excerpts from Sympathy For The Devil.

“I was always encouraging, maneuvering for, and poised to take advantage of increased and higher level contacts within [the Khmer Rouge] ranks. I approached it as an endless chess game, requiring long-term strategy and patience and an intimate knowledge of one’s opponent. By the mid 1990′s, obstacles were being removed and I was advancing. I knew from viewing their chessboard that I was closing in, however slowly, on their king—Pol Pot.

“For many years, my biggest fear was that Pol Pot was going to die on me before I was able to meet him. I would wake at night, my stomach in knots, with the thought of years of effort abruptly extinguished with Pol Pot’s last breath.”

Nate Thayer

No doubt, Sympathy For The Devil will fill in a significant chunk of history, largely unknown to most Western readers. Thayer hopes to raise $67,500 in direct crowd-sourcing to fund completion of the manuscript and related materials. He says he will provide explicit records of donations and expenditures to anyone who asks. More information and a video can be found on his blog, Nate-Thayer.com.

But the book also promises to be a rollicking account of a bygone era of journalism, when reporters were colorful characters who nonetheless possessed serious intent and influence. The remarkable thing is that Thayer did it as a freelance or contract writer—which is akin to what someone once said about Ginger Rogers, dancing with Fred Astaire: “She did everything he did, but backwards…and in high heels.”

For anyone who wants to know how journalists work—or used to work—Sympathy For The Devil will be something of a handbook. Not to mention, fun. Thayer’s writing is laced with cynicism and idealism, with dark humor, pathos and outrage.

Consider How–And Why-The New York Times Didn’t Interview Pol Pot, Thayer’s account of outfoxing a reporter from the New York Times who attempted to muscle her way into his hard-won jungle appointment to meet Pol Pot.

“I was goddamned if I was going to be beat on this story by a Washington-based NYT reporter in high heels, a short skirt, enough luggage to require a bellhop and a luggage cart, who flew in from Washington with letters from senior U.S. officials…requesting she be given assistance in her reporting efforts.”

“I excused myself from my whiskey and notebooks…and simply called the chief of staff of the Khmer Rouge army and inquired whether there were other journalists scheduled to come into Khmer Rouge territory the next morning with me. He said no, there was not. He further assured me–being the man in control of all the guns and check points accessing their control zones—that he would immediately put out a directive that no one else would be allowed access the next day except for me and my team.

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a letter from the Pope, if the guy with the AK-47 has been told not to let you in, then you are not going anywhere…

“On the other hand, if you have slept in the jungle with the field commanders and his troops, and for a decade talked about what a drag malaria is, compared medicines, shared your food over jungle campfires eating rice and bugs, and commiserated together on how you haven’t been laid for weeks…and how the food sucks and you are tired of getting shot at and not getting paid shit, when it comes time [for the guys with the AK-47s] to raise the bamboo pole, the chances are considerably greater you will be allowed access.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 5.02.39 PM“Nate was arguably the most knowledgeable and experienced foreign journalist covering” Cambodia, according to David E. Miller, a former service officer for the State Department in Phnom Penh.  “His writing was informed by a strong sense of justice and the belief that those who perpetrated the wrongs that the Cambodian people had suffered deserve to be exposed and punished.”

Thayer’s time in Cambodia was not all about Pol Pot. Check out The Night I Lived, his account of nearly dying when the truck in which he was riding with guerrilla fighters ran over a double-dose of land mines. It’s a vivid illustration of the absurdities and tragedies of war and wartime journalism.

“There was a severed leg lying across my face. I held the leg up and looked at it. It was not connected to a body. …

“I needed to know whether it was my leg I was holding in my hand. But I was very scared to find out. I reached down and ran my hand over my left leg and it was still attached to my body. I did the same with my right leg. It, also, was still attached to my body. …

“A few feet away was the young Cambodian truck driver, moments before with whom I was laughing and smiling and chatting. Life, for both us, would be, from that moment on, very different. His would be much shorter than mine.”

And, if you read no other excerpt, don’t miss Spies and Journalists, in which a distressed Prince Chakrapong—who has attempted a coup—calls upon Thayer to save him from the armed government troops who have surrounded the hotel in which the Prince has taken refuge.

“In the preceding hours, Chakrapong had fled his home to a hotel with nothing… but his 22-year-old mistress. He begged me to come right away. Chakrapong was hiding in the false paneled ceiling of his 2-star hotel room with his mistress, with no bodyguards and no guns.

“I called three people. My friend, the American station chief and told him there was a coup underway and it would be great if he and some of his people could come down because I thought an American citizen’s life might be at risk—specifically, mine.

“I then called Prime Minister Ranarriddh’s top aides and told him I was in the hotel room with his hated brother and to please shoot carefully if or when attempting to enter.

“And I called my editor in Hong Kong to tell him I thought I had a very good  story… a great fucking story.

“That was my job. Get as close as I could to a story, witness it and report it. I loved that life.”

Check it out at Nate-Thayer.com