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To read: “Making Space: Women and the Man-Made Environment” by Matrix

Another one for the list.

***

Read Making Space: Women and the Man-Made Environment by The Matrix Feminist Design Cooperative, published by Pluto Press in 1984.

Came across it via this article in the Guardian, wish I could see the exhibition currently on at the Barbican.

It’s long out of print so pretty pricey secondhand… but the ever-useful Monoskop has a copy online and supposedly Verso is reprinting it this year. Definitely one for the wish list.

Related to this, check out the Matrix Open feminist architecture archive online which includes a few texts and other resources.

Random coincidence: Apparently Pluto Press was located on Torriano Ave. in the mid-80s, the same short street in Kentish Town where I lived when I first moved to London. Looks like the Torriano is now the Rose & Crown, but it sounds like it was a relatively gentle change, as far as pub refurbishments go. Pluto Press is now up in Archway, just up the road from the old Byam Shaw School of Art building. Wonder what CSM is doing with that space now…

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“I firmly believe in stressing the *fun* in *fun*gi”

Cover of the book “All That the Rain Promises and More...”

I picked up All That the Rain Promises and More… A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora at Alley Cat Bookstore and Gallery a few weeks ago. It felt a little silly considering we live in maybe the most concrete neighborhood we’ve ever lived in, and since foraging isn’t allowed in most of California, but how could I not get it. Look at the absolute maniac on the cover, the title.

The rest of the book lives up to the cover. The format is great, truly pocketable. Before you even get to the title page, it starts with a super straightforward flow chart of how to identify a mushroom with gills. The back endpapers are the same, but for mushrooms without gills. The bulk of the content is densely packed information about mushrooms, of course. But peppered throughout are anecdotes, recipes, personal stories and more from the author and many other smiling fungi fans.

Honestly, it’s been nice even just as bedtime reading, as strange as that may sound. 10/10

Now I just need to get myself out to Point Reyes or Salt Point State Park. For more on ethical / legal mushroom foraging in California, I found this article useful.

Get the book used or new on Biblio

Spread from the book “All That the Rain Promises and More...”

Spread from the book “All That the Rain Promises and More...”

Spread from the book “All That the Rain Promises and More...”

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Music notation software

Just came across StaffPad via SB, music notation software for tablets. Looks very cool.

I used Sibelius pretty heavily in college, dabbled with Finale a bit as well. Looks like Sibelius is now a subscription app à la Adobe CS 😕 so I probably wouldn’t reach for it now. There is a free tier, but it’s pretty limiting. Finale’s not a subscription app, but it’s an eye-watering $600 for the most recent version. I’m all for paying for software when it’s worth it, but that seems steep.

StaffPad is $89.99 in the Mac App store as of right now, which seems very reasonable considering the features it offers. The handwriting recognition in particular looks pretty nifty, though I wonder how accurate it would be in practice…

My music notation needs are generally very intermittent (nonexistent at the moment…), so I’ll probably stick to LilyPond for now. It’s free, open source software that’s a lot like LaTeX but for music, does the job and can achieve some pretty complex notation. I do wish it was easier to control the text and notation fonts, but you can’t have everything. A huge upside of using LilyPond is keeping scores in version control via Git, which I think I’d miss if I moved to something with a more traditional UI.

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Identity wrangling

A hand cupping some water from a stream

Cupping the water in Spicey Gill coming down from Ilkley Moor. Photo taken a year ago today.

“You are not your emotions.” Well you are, but you are not only your emotions. And you can choose not to be controlled by your emotions.

Life is made up of micro and macro decisions, and their consequences.

I chose to move back to the US, and now I am grappling with the reality of that decision, amongst other things. It has made life easier in some respects, and harder in others. Do I regret it? No. Will we be here forever? Magic eight ball says 🎱 “Concentrate and ask again”.

Read more

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Encounter with vaccine hesitancy

Had my first IRL encounter with vaccine hesitancy in SF yesterday.

I was grabbing an Uber back from a blood test and got chatting with the driver about all sorts of stuff. He was a perfectly lovely guy, probably around the same age as me. He asked if I’d had the vaccine and I said yes, that I’d had the second about two weeks ago. I asked if he had had it, thinking that maybe he asked me because he’d just had his. He said he wasn’t planning to get it, alluded to being skeptical about what was in them and whether they were safe.

He said something like 40% of the US military wasn’t getting the vaccine. I didn’t really really know what to say to that. I knew it wasn’t quite right, but was too tired to question it.

(Back in February it was reported that about one-third of military personnel supposedly were planning not to get the vaccine, but that was based on an extrapolation from survey data from the rest of the US population at the time, not on any major survey of the military itself [more on this]. We don’t actually know how many members of the military are getting the vaccine since it isn’t being tracked, it could be way higher or way lower. And the broader numbers across the US have changed since then, though there is still a good chunk of the population that is hesitant.)

Anyways, the conversation moved on. We got talking about how dire it was early on in San Francisco, tough for him to drive then. About how nice it is to see things gradually opening up, how it was nice to be seeing so many more people out and about even though it meant bad traffic, about how it will be great when we can stop wearing masks outside at least. He mentioned that he was planning to keep wearing his mask inside and while driving for a long, long time. So he was vaccine hesitant, but in no way an anti-masker or anything.

I mentioned how impressed I was by the vaccine efforts going on at the Moscone Center, about how I’d never seen anything like it, so many kind and qualified people coming together to help so many hundreds of other people every day. Figured it was the best I could do short of actively trying to convince him to get the vaccine itself.

When we parted ways, he said he was feeling positive about the whole situation, with so many people getting vaccinated. Said to stay safe, then I was out the door.

I need to figure out how to respond more proactively in that sort of situation. I think that his rational was probably “there are plenty of other people getting it, so I should be safe without it”. But we can’t realistically get high enough immunity within the population that way, and it isn’t a very community-minded approach. How do you get that across without being accusatory or making someone defensive?

I’m glad he’s feeling positive, but unfortunately I left the car feeling a bit lower than when I’d gotten in. We have such a massive mountain to climb in terms of the quality, efficacy, and breadth of our public health communication.

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A little more on Rietveld’s crate furniture, discovering Louise Brigham’s earlier box furniture, and thoughts about the purpose of a blog

More on Rietveld’s crate furniture

Off the back of writing up the Rietveld-esque crate stool how-to, I started looking in to more about the origins of Gerrit Rietveld’s crate furniture. The best write up I’ve found is “A restorer’s blog: Pre-war crate desk by Rietveld”. It sounds like Metz & Co, the company selling much of Rietveld’s furniture, was skeptical.

“We cannot sell wood chips,” director Joseph de Leeuw had written to Rietveld.

It’s worth reading the post in full for a ton of anecdotes and context, as well as some useful comments from a master furniture restorer.

Louise Brigham’s earlier box furniture

While researching, I also came across this post which introduced me to Louise Brigham, an American designer and teacher best known for her box furniture.

Her background is one of privilege, but she seemed to wield her privilege reasonably well. She came from a comfortably wealthy Bostonian family, and her parents died in her teens. Their death, combined with family wealth, likely allowed her to buck the normal pressures on a woman living in her time. She instead pursued her creative and social ambitions.

After studying both the Pratt Institute and the Chase School of Art (now Parsons), she became involved in the settlement house movement in Cleveland, OH where she experimented with furniture made from boxes and crates. She then travelled around Europe studying craft traditions. Supposedly she visited Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh in Glasgow, which I feel you can see in some of her designs. Perhaps her most impactful time was spent in Spitzbergen, a treeless island that is part of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic where she really honed her design rational, ethos, and aesthetics.

She was prolific in the early 1900s. In 1909—over two decades before Rietveld’s crate furniture—she published Box Furniture, a book charmingly illustrated by Edward Aschermann on how to make furniture from crates. The book was reprinted multiple times and translated in to many languages.

To all who care for simplicity and thrift, utility and beauty, I send my message.

Louise Brigham, Box Furniture, p25

In the early 1910s, she set up a woodworking “laboratory” for children called the Home Thrift Association. During WWI she started one of the earliest ready-to-assemble furniture companies, Home Art Masters.

Why haven’t we heard more about her work?

For further reading on Louise Brigham, there are a few articles and books out there that look worthwhile. The interiordesign.net article “Thinking Outside the Box: Louise Brigham’s Furniture of 1909” by Larry Weinberg published in 2009 provides a lovely introduction to Brigham and her book. See also Kevin Adkisson’s paper “Box Furniture: Thinking Outside the Box” from 2014 for much more detail on her, including her later life.

The most extensive writing on Brigham currently appears to be Antoinette LaFarge’s book Louise Brigham and the Early History of Sustainable Furniture Design. I haven’t read it, but it looks promising.

And of course, check out Brigham’s Box Furniture available to view or download for free on archive.org. Love it, this book being part of the Internet Archive feels very in keeping with her vibe.

I’m planning to dig in a bit to Alice Rawsthorn’s writing. Her short article on Brigham for Maharam prompted me to look at her other articles. The list is extensive. Looking at that list, she seems to have covered so many of the women I have had some major or minor curiosity about over the past few years. See her writing on Louise Brigham, Ruth Asawa and the Alvarado School Arts Workshop in San Francisco, architect and designer Charlotte Perriand, architect Sophie Hicks and her home, Lucie Rie and her buttons, furniture and interior designer Clara Porset, Bauhaus photographer Gertrud Arndt, architect Jane Drew, interior designers Agnes and Rhoda Garrett, architect and activist Grete Lihotzky. I think I need to pick up a copy of Rawsthorn’s Design as an Attitude or Hello World: Where Design Meets Life at this point.

On a more personal note, I identified strongly with Rawsthorn’s short article on her most treasured possession for Elle Decoration. My most treasured possessions from my maternal grandmother are cookbooks and kitchen tools. Her battered plastic cake stand, a perfectly shaped spatula, a muffin tin. From her mother, it’s her quilt patterns cut from scrap cardboard and cereal boxes, and her flower drawings for embroidery. This is not to say that I don’t also cherish more traditionally precious heirlooms, it’s just that the objects with utility feel like they maybe have more of the life of the person in them.

Some thoughts after reading Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”

I finally read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”. I was reminded of it yet again while surfing around the web looking at all of the above and found a copy online.

Keepers of private notebooks are a differ­ent breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

Harsh. But probably fair.

See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write—on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there […]

Exactly.

We are not talk­ing here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consump­tion, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

Now this is interesting, and it sort of hits on the difference between a personal blog and a blog that feels more business-driven.

The best personal blogs I’ve come across feel like a glimpse in to someone’s personal notebook, something filled mostly with notes written with the author in mind first and foremost vs notes that have been written with a wider audience in mind. A good personal blog can (and maybe should) contain a mixture of both, since they both can be absolutely great and useful. But when it is only ever writing for an audience… well that doesn’t feel like a personal blog, to me.

It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

“It all” being moments, memories, the good and the bad.

I hope to have this site when I’m 80. I may not like some of the things I wrote 50 years prior, but at least I will be able to reacquaint myself with former me-s. I hope I don’t lose sight of this purpose.

And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

A difference between Didion’s era and now: some of my notes could help you, and yours me. Another reason that I love personal blogs. It just seems so hard to find them sometimes.

A notebook, that’s all any of this is, really.


Edited 10 May, changed “like a personal brand exercise” to “more business-driven”. The phrase “personal brand” has a lot of negative connotations, so “personal brand exercise” felt way too snarky on a re-read. Business-driven blogs by individuals are super important, and useful! They’re just different, and there’s space for all of that (and a mixture of all the above) online.

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Bay trees and blackberry thorns

California Bay Laurel trees along Dipsea Trail near Stinson Beach

Note: I’ve included points about edibility because I’m interested in foraging generally, but foraging is not allowed the area I describe.

We went to Stinson Beach again recently, have got in to a good routine of leaving early enough to just barely beat the crowds and get a decent parking spot, but not so early that it’s a slog to get out of the apartment.

This time, we walked up Dipsea Trail to a lookout point with a large, lone eucalyptus tree with a tree swing. It was a little over two miles round trip with about a 500ft elevation change, nearly all uphill out and all downhill back. The first section follows a little stream from Panoramic Highway through a grove of California Bay Laurel trees which bent over the path. It was quite damp and cool even though it was getting pretty warm elsewhere, smelled amazing.

A note about California Bay Laurel: The leaves are edible, but they tend to be much stronger than the stuff you buy in shops. Proceed with caution if using for stock or something similar.

The rest of the way was more open, with terrain that reminded us a little of the moors in Yorkshire. A lot sunnier though!

Flowers we saw (native plants are linked to the Calscape website for further info):

And a few more I just have not been able to identify…

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Maintenance is everything

I don’t expect most of the opinions that I hold now to have the same shape in 10, 20. years. I don’t think any of us is the same person every day, identity shifts with every tiny experience, so it’d be a silly thing to suggest or expect.

But one that I think might stick, the thing that might last if I ever wrote a manifesto: Maintenance is everything.

Bikes, physical health, mental health, roads, relationships, furniture, websites, clothing, parks, plants, sewers.

If it’s worth creating/buying/doing in the first place, it’s usually worth maintaining. And I love maintenance, fixing things, so that’s lucky! (Don’t like cleaning so much, which is another major part of physical maintenance, but I’m working on that.)

The problem is that new/shiny is a lot more lucrative than old/broken (more on this). How do we shift that mindset?

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First day of the rest of my life

Just got my first vaccine dose yesterday, my appointment was at the Moscone Center. Good lord, they’re running a slick operation over there. The staff are clearly working very hard to keep things smooth and quick. And the unrelenting torrent of small talk they have to put up with! They are saints.

I’m happy to have had mountains of very clear (but un-pushy) reference material and guidance from my OB/GYN practice about whether or not to get the vaccine when expecting. The endorsement by the OB/GYN community in the US is very different to the approach in the UK though, which has made some conversations with UK-based friends and family interesting! None of them have said I shouldn’t get it, but some have expressed a bit of trepidation, which is fair enough. There are a lot of factors making up this sort of public health guidance, and there’s still a lot we don’t know. We’re all making do as best we can.

All things going to plan, I should be fully vaccinated by 21 April. 🤞 I know this is terribly hyperbolic, but it sort of feels like the first day of the rest of my life.

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it’s a wild world

A woodcut by Albrecht Dürer of the northern hemisphere celestial globe, from the Minneapolis Institute of Art collection

Albrecht Dürer, The Northern Hemisphere of the Celestial Globe, woodcut, 1515 | (CC-PDM) Public Domain, Minneapolis Institute of Art collection (source)

Came across two tweets today that have jointly taken up residence in my head. This tweet:

i don’t want a career, i want whatever bilbo baggins and the rest of the hobbits had in the shire

And from this tweet, a short clip of Ethan Hawke’s TED talk:

I think that most of us really want to offer the world something of quality, ☝️something that the world will consider good or important☝️. And that’s really the enemy, because it’s not up to us whether what we do is any good. If history has taught us anything, the world is an extremely unreliable critic.

The shire is tiny, quaint, communal. That’s part of why it “works”.

Our world, on the other hand, is enormous and increasingly fractured. We can be exposed to nearly every possible facet and product of humanity via our phone screens. The desire to make a mark is as strong as it has ever been, but it’s hard to do anything that feels of real consequence when you’re effectively a sea-monkey navigating the Pacific Ocean.

You can make it feel smaller by limiting media consumption (traditional and social), but it has to be a daily, conscious action. And the pressure to engage can be enormous depending on your age and career. It just wears you down.

I suppose the goal is a balance, cultivating a smaller, more meaningful personal world (friends, collaborators, family, acquaintances) that you can retreat to and just occasionally reaching out in to the hurricane. But when making a decent living feels tied to the hurricane, or the hurricane seems like all you have left… it’s not an easy truce.

This is why the silent retreats, the off-grid living, the hamlet cottages are so compelling. It’s easy to think that physically moving somewhere less frantic will automatically offer peace, but unless you can temper the virtual arena that makes up your world, it’s just more of the same.

No answers here, as usual. Just more thoughts for the whirlpool.


Edit: I just re-read this and it makes me cringe a bit. It’s so obvious, and it has occurred to me a thousand times before. Why is it an epiphany every time I think about it? I always forget, it’s like Groundhog Day. Maybe this is what mantras are for. Something like the perennial I am enough, but more My sphere of influence, the way I define it, and the way I engage with it is enough. Ugh I don’t know!