Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Going for a swim

Bookmarks by Crafted Fantasies.

I have three bookmarks in the shape of mermaids, made of Tibetan silver. Like the Little Mermaid and her sisters in the story, ornaments hang from their tails: chains with little beads and animal charms; a dolphin, a turtle, a seahorse. 

The mermaids all have the same expressions. Their eyes are tightly shut, their lips forming a little O, or maybe an 'ooh!'. I like to interpret it as joy and anticipation. They stretch out their arms, eager to dive into my books. When I close my book on one, only her curved tail sticks out, with its identifying ornament, to show my place.

I like to imagine that I am these mermaids. I save them for my favourite and most monumental books, which I would never leave unattended in a train or a restaurant, books I love to read and reread as often as I love running my fingers over the raised scales and carved hair of my mermaids. With them I dive joyfully into familiar waters, or immerse myself in a new but valued recommendation.


The metaphor goes too far when I write about it; the experience is more tactile than conscious, and doesn't take nearly as long to do as to describe. I pick up the bookmark, perceiving the curves and textures of it, sometimes play with the little dangling bead or charm. While I read I tuck it into the back of the book, or just hold it. That slight weight is there in the back of my mind as I drop into the world of the book. When something interrupts I tuck the mermaid into the gutter between the pages and straighten the chain on her tail as I shut the book. Then even if I put the book into the pile that usually sits by my bed, or even back on the shelf, the silver tail and jaunty charms are there to catch my eye and remind me to finish my 'swim'.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Vagina Monographs: an illustrated poem

In the bookstore where I work there are books about the vagina. 



They are critically acclaimed and prominently displayed.


None of them have an actual image of a vagina on the cover, of course. They have symbols, suggestions, sly visual puns. Allusion beats mimesis in the rock-paper-scissors game of book sales (and obscenity laws).


I began to collect them, in my mind: these substitutions. 


I thought they were funny, even clever, until I spoke to a woman who had come in for a book on sociology. 

She snorted. 'That's all we are to them,' she said. 'A shape.'



Saturday, August 17, 2013

Writing Experiments: Step into the Bhakti-verse

Some of you might have noticed that I spend a lot of time on these blogs writing about my mother. They say that your life influence comes out of the five people you spend the most time with. For two people who spend most of their time on opposite sides of the globe, my mother and I see each other a lot. I work with her (and sometimes for her), we send each other interesting links, and like many other mothers and daughters, we Skype. (Is that a verb now? Like Google?)

Another reason we're so close is that we share so many interests. Science fiction & fantasy. Illustration. Calligraphy. And writing, of course.

My mom's writing is a strange animal. She's been going to a class for a few years now, but her degree is in film and advertising. She's also read a lot of spiritual literature, as well as writers like Robert Holdstock and Patricia McKillip, who do lyrical, descriptive work. A lot of her writing is brief but rhythmic, like a media sound bite from an alternate universe. She also really likes alliteration and parallel structure.

Lately, as a writing exercise, she re-worked one of her favourite pieces into three poems and asked me to read them and see what I thought. You can read them here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/bhakti-issa-urra/pushing-the-envelope/10151769471568360


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crafting in Difficult Conditions

with permission from Kate's Paperie, for whom I did
this illustration
I used to collect rubber stamping and scrapbooking manuals. Somerset Studios, Visual Chronicles, Rubber Stamp Journal...I loved them. But after a while these 'manuals' started to frustrate me. Every project was surrounded with an arsenal of mysterious tools, most of which cost $18.99 at HobbyCraft.

In the Philippines, and especially in my hometown, there is no Target or Michael's or giant craft store. You can't just dash out and pick up a hand press (a mythical item I've never even seen in real life), a bone folder, or a heating pad. There are no star-shaped punches or gilt frame stickers to be found, no ink pads in jewel colours, no....yes, I'll stop now.

What a good crafter does in this country is go on the hunt. Hardware stores are your best friend. Need an eyelet punch? Hit up a Handyman for a belt hole puncher and pliers and then the local bespoke tailor for your eyelet rings--figure out the rest on your own.

My mother makes jewellery and we'd been looking for wire she could make into links for two weeks. Nothing of the right size or pliability in the local malls. We had to go to the fish market! The markets are in a really dodgy part of town, where purse snatchers operate even in broad daylight. We had to stay close, and hold our bags closer. After several dead ends we wound up in a deep, dark, hole-in-the-wall store that sold fishing tackle. It looked like a passage into Narnia, after all the children had grown up and used it for storage. But this dim, filthy place that looked like the birth of tetanus was, of course, secretly magic.

We found the perfect wire--Seahorse leader line, used in trawl nets. I nervously eyed a set of fish hooks, carefully taped down under the glass shelves to protect unwary elbows, as my mother haggled over the leader line and some guitar strings. Don't even ask me why a fishing store would sell guitar strings.

No glitter, no ribbons, no fancy scalloped scissors. But they had what we wanted, and if my mom hadn't been willing to stomp around a smelly wet market I would never have known where to find it. Wear waterproof shoes and a theft-proof shoulder bag, and always wash your hands. That's hardcore crafting.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Face in the Mirror: The City and the City review (mild spoilers)

original here

The City and the City by China Mieville: My Face in the Mirror


I finished this book last night, and read a whole bunch of reviews about it. They were very well-informed and well-written, extolling the mirror-play between Beszel and Ul Qoma in high-flown terms, delighting in Miéville's innovation of words like 'grosstopical' and 'topolganger', exploring the way Miéville wrote the bizarre into the characters' habits so the world became both believable and natural. They compare Borlú to Dragon Tattoo's Blomqvist, who I found smug and gloomy in comparison. I wanted to write something like that. 

But while reading the book, something happened that I'd never experienced before: 
[SPOILERS!]