Sunday, September 30, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good morning from New York.

The calendars are whispering that September ends today, October begins tomorrow. How can this be true? I may have asked this question around this time of year, last year, but this year I do really mean it.

I am looking forward to a break in my usual schedule, and that break will begin mid-October. So much needs to be done before then. I suspect that many items on that long list will not be completed. Even so, a break will be welcome.

The past week flew past.

I had hoped to have lunch with a childhood friend, now resident in the U.K., while she was in New York visiting one of her sons. But, even though we had many e-mails planning the best day for this get together, it only took one staff member coming down with a very bad cold to squelch the lunch.

I was at least able to see my old pal and one of her very handsome sons for a brief, brief hug and chat at the shop. The shop was so busy, I had to keep breaking away from the catch-up conversation to go help customers. There was absolutely no way that I could have left the shop for a long lunch. I was disappointed, but if I am supposed to display responsibility to my staff, that is what I have to do.

On another day, I used half of my day off to attend a quarterly company meeting at the the company's showroom in the Garment District on Seventh Avenue. These meetings are unlike most other company meetings, in that stretching exercises and meditation minutes intersperse reports on spring fashions, quarterly sales, and profit-sharing estimates. We are having a very good year, and the profit sharing bonus looks to be very generous. More about that will be known in about six weeks.

We had our semi-annual special event in the shop on Thursday, offering refreshments, $25 off each purchase, a gift with each purchase, and the opportunity to help us support a worthy philanthropy that encourages leadership, rather than followship, in young girls. (We contribute 10% of the day's take to the charity.)

These events take a fair amount of planning, and the actual day is a very high energy, demanding, somewhat exhiliarating experience. On my way to the shop that day, I stopped into the bank to cash a petty cash reconciliation check for the prior month's expenses. As one does, I sort of zoned out in the bank queue, going through mental lists of event-related tasks ahead of me.

Then. From my right, I heard a male voice say, "Hello, Frances." I turned and saw a man smiling at me. He looked a bit familiar. Well. The man was someone with whom I lived for a number of years back in the 1970's.
He recognized me. I would not have recognized him otherwise. (This same scenario occured on a sidewalk about twelve years ago, and at time, I shamefully admit not knowing who he was even after he said his first name.)

On Thursday, I did speak to him for a little bit, wanting to be polite, but also wanting to flee. Finally, the bank teller said, "Next," and so I was able to say bye bye. Of course, when I was finished at the teller's window, he was still there waiting to talk some more. So, I did talk a little more, and then said that I really did have to get to work.

I left the bank in a daze, going through many memories, and thoughts of bridges crossed, forks in roads, all that sort of thing. I did wait for the "walk" sign before crossing the busy street, so I got to the store intact, if quite shaken.

The day was incredible, and I really had no more time to think of the encounter at the bank. We did about $32,000 in business. Wow.

I was so tired at the end of the day. Just spent.

Luckily, I had given myself the next day off. After getting through the usual errands, I pretty much vegetated in the late afternoon. That was luxury.

Back to work yesterday for another hectic nine hours. And I am still behind on various projects. And still cannot seem to convince my bosses that we need more staff. I am still in the dark as to what will really happen with regard to the return of my new mom assistant manager.

The week that begins today will be pivotal, if some of these staffing needs are to be addressed before my mid-month break. During the week prior to my vacation, I will be out of the store for four days of managers' meetings. So...that is really three weeks during which the shop will not have its manager (me) present. This may turn out to be all for the good. Especially if chaos erupts, as it very well may.

I do know that as long as I keep patching up the schedule, making sure that all runs smoothly, there is less incentive for anyone else to discover the joys of this level of responsible dedication. Opportunity is about to knock.

Hoping that you all will have a lovely Sunday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good morning from sunny New York.

On such a crisp late summer day, I surely should be outside. And before long I will swap my indoor rubber flip flops for socks and sturdier shoes and have a long walk in the park.

But before then, taking advantage of a welcome bit of free time, I have been trying to sort out a number of experiences from the past few days. Sometimes, I wonder if I am in fact living several parallel lives. I do not mean this in sci-fi sort of way, but rather that I have my inner self-image, and continually find that my actual daily physical time seems to be lived by a totally different person.

Last Saturday, I went to see a small exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. My MOMA membership is about to expire and I do not plan to renew it immediately. So, I am trying to make a few quick visits before the end of October.

The exhibit I saw on Saturday was quite eccentric, and centered upon ten year's correspondence between a MOMA curator and a young artist who was trying to leave his Michigan university and family, and move to New York, find patronage and pursue his creativity. His correspondence was itself creative. None of it was an actual letter on stationery in an envelope. It could be a scroll, a tiny many-layers-of-folded tissue paper with a word on each fold, all sorts of formats.

My particular interest in the exhibit arose because in the decade following the period of the correspondence I knew the artist well. He had come to New York, continued to collect patrons, and to slowly create a new persona for himself, leaving his Michigan background very far in the background. He traveled to Japan, he was an artist in residence at a rather surprising choice, the Hudson Institute think tank. His fame grew from a number of successful "happenings," beautifully staged. Conceptual art can be awful. His was mostly magical. And always, he was very good at the self-promotion that can be essential for artists' survival.

Somewhere in this cramped apartment I have some little bits and pieces of his work that are perhaps as significant as anything on view at MOMA. Or perhaps they are not.

As time passed, our lives went in different directions. I would continue to see some of his gallery exhibits, at major NYC spots like Mary Boone Gallery, and see him in party photos in French "Vogue."

Looking at the pieces in the exhibit, I took a long meander down memory lane, and thought about what my life was like when I was in my late twenties. New York has never been a gentle place, but my memories do yield a collection of experiences that seem lighter, less cynical, maybe just younger.

I was actually alone in the MOMA gallery room the entire time that I looked at the show. I wonder how many other folks have visited the exhibit and had similar memories to mine. As I left the museum, I was still sort of not quite in the present tense, but full of contemplation. Having time for contemplation is a luxury for me these days.

Yesterday, Tuesday, was to be a day off for me. However, I had arranged a meeting to fit the schedule of a visiting top human resources lady, so that we could sit down, in a location outside the shop, to talk with one of my staff members, very seriously, about the need for her to improve her performance.

I had drafted a form that ultimately we would sign, regarding this need for improvement. My draft had been reviewed and very slightly revised by the HR lady. On Monday evening, I had taken home all the prior personnel files for this staff member. She has worked for the company for almost eight years. My company is very benevolent, often seeming to pride itself on rescue missions. I have been the manager of my shop for about a year and one half, and had intentionally not read old personnel file, preferring to form my own impressions of my staff.

Well. The eight-year file was full of prior need for improvement forms. It seemed as though over and over and over, prior managers had come to the edge of terminating the employee, and then pulled back. All the forms addressed failings similar to what my form detailed. I realized, that again, I was being called upon to be the "heavy." To do what others had not been able to do.

Yesterday's meeting went much as I anticipated it would. The staff member was defensive, and did not agree with much of what I had written, although she did accept some of the comments. She does not realize how much the pace and demands of the shop have changed, and that what might have been accepted four, five, six or even seven years ago, just will not cut it now. We asked that she think about the improvements that we had requested, and that we would meet again in two weeks to re-assess progress.

She then said that she was rather upset and did not want to go back to the store, but would like to take the rest of the day off. I told her several times, that of course she had that choice, but that making that choice was another example of letting down the rest of her colleagues. And that it meant that I would lose my day off, since someone would have to fill in for her and it was too late to make other arrangements. She stuck to her wish to go home and went home.

It was a very busy day. Customers were well served. We juggled priorities all day, more or less productively. The HR lady did come back to the shop also, and had a brief visit with each of those other staff members present. The earlier meeting remains a confidential matter, but of course everyone was buzzing with curiosity.

My plans for yesterday afternoon (glamorous grocery shopping, laundry and house cleaning were shelved. I have got some of those duties taken care of already today.

Inside my head, I still think of myself as the would be artist who left her childhood home to live in New York and enjoyed the comraderie of other like-minded folks. I am a person who actually makes art.

Ah, but the version of myself who jumps awake at the earliest light or alarm beep (whichever signals first) is quite another person. This person has difficult meetings during which she must harden her heart, this person does not make art, has a difficult time keeping up with creative friends, is thankful for continued good health and stamina, has found a way to support herself, often feels that the treadmill on which she daily runs keeps being set to faster and faster speeds. This is all the same person.

I expect that many of you who might read this feel or have felt similarly about your owns lives, althought the specifics vary. It is quite marvelous that we can be so supportive.

Still too early to wish you my usual pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good evening from New York.

Yesterday started grey and muggy, but the heavy atmosphere was abruptly broken by a crackling afternoon thunderstorm. Today, the recipient of that that change was a gorgeous day.

Both days were originally scheduled as days off, but intervening commitments altered that plan.
I got half of each day free to get my laundry and grocery shopping done, plus meet up with a friend at a cafe and see how late summer is treating Central Park.

Yesterday afternoon's commitment was actually quite informative and entertaining. I got to attend a "fitting" session at my company's design center. The session involved about a dozen outfits that will be part of the Spring 2008 collection. Months ago, I had attended a brainstorming session at the same location that sort of kicked of the early stages of creating this seasonal collection, so it was quite an experience to see where those early notions had led.

I was present as sort of an auditor, observing how the design team would review the various ensembles that were to be modeled by two sample-sized ladies. The design team and other technical experts present would carefully look at the effect of each separate garment, and also how that piece worked with the other pieces being worn by the model. Critique was done. Notes and adjustments were made as deemed wise. Some pieces were judged to be absolutely fine and ok'd for final production.

What was really exciting was that every so often, the team would turn to me, as the only one present who actually works with customers on a daily basis, for my opinion. Both my personal esthetic opinion, but also what I felt would be the reaction of next spring's customers to the product. It was an amazing opportunity to have my say, and for the most part, I feel that I was both candid and diplomatic.

However, I am one who will speak my mind, as as someone who used to sew all my clothes, has followed decades of fashion trends, and just loves design, it was very difficult for me to praise anything that I truly thought was no good. So, I did give some "constructive" criticism on a few ensembles. I think that my words offended at least one or two members of the design team, who take themselves fairly seriously, and were not expecting to hear what I said. Too late now. I said what I said. (At the end of the session, I did speak to one of the veterans of the team, about whether I should take another look at a piece that I had deemed sort of soporific, and she said, Nah, don't worry about it. What you said was honestly what you felt. That's good for us to know.)

It really was fun. All sorts of notes were taken and computer entries made and photos clicked of various stages of the design decisions made. Being present gave me a much better notion of just what goes into creating a finished collection. I would love to attend another session, and hope that being outspoken will not result in my being banned.

This morning I was off to a very early meeting of store managers from my district. The agenda was very mixed, and as usual time ran out before all topics were covered. I did make a point of sort of cornering my boss's boss (who chaired the meeting) afterwards to try to sort out some matters that need sorting out to help my store to continue to be properly staffed. I think that I got my points across and also heard my boss's boss's points. We are not totally in agreement, but at least we better understand what situations do need attention.

This evening I am heavier by the consumption of several slices of various types of chocolate cakes, due to the generosity of my fellow managers at this morning's meeting and that of an afternoon cafe stay with friends. This was my 62nd birthday. It seems amazing to me that I could be this old, and now actually qualified to collect our country's Social Security (national pension plan with its iffy present and future funding.) There is no way that I plan to retire any time soon, but it is strangely comforting to know that I have crossed the line to qualify for the minimum amount of monthly payments.

Back to work tomorrow. Many challenges await. Even better, I also will have the day off on Saturday!

Pleasant dreams.

Monday, September 10, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good morning from New York.

What a grey, muggy Monday has appeared unto us. It is the kind of dawn that does not energize. Well, it does not energize me.

I will try to counter that lethargy with my cups of strong coffee, and focus on presenting my favorite smells and sounds, as requested by Exmoor Jane. I will just toss them out as they occur to me.

One. Any form of cooking that involves brown sugar and melted butter creates an aroma that I find irresistible.

Two. Lavender, fresh, dried or making an appearance in soaps.

Three. King's College choir singing "Once in Royal David's City" will make me cry.

Four. Hearing almost any Bob Marley song will make me want to dance.

Five. Freshly ground strong coffee. Freshly brewed strong coffee.

Six. Hearing almost any word from a dear friend whom I've not heard from recently.

Seven. Fried bacon.

Eight. Bossa nova music played by my favorite street saxophonist, who plays in Central Park on moody, cloudy days.

Nine. Chocolate. Up close.

Ten. Ripe peaches.

Eleven. The sound and even the smell of being close to someone I love.

Twelve. The sound of laughter from someone I know, or even someone I do not know, particularly if it is a child's laugh. I include the sound of children giggling in this entry.

Any of the above would be a very welcome sensory signal. Many of them would make pleasant combinations, too.

I hope that you all will find that we share some of the twelve.

It is still grey and muggy, but I am feeling energized. Off to work!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good evening from New York.

Knowing that I was going to see Michael Palin yesterday evening, and having the day off, I decided it would be wise to get a needed haircut. No need to look shabby on such an occasion.
So, off to the salon for another expert cut, and I now once again look like the photo.

My stylist and I agreed that hair coloring is something that I will most likely never get into. My stylist is currently looking radiant in very red hair. It is dramatic, but suits her. She told me that her boss has given her a raise, which means that her rates will go up, but not for her devoted old time following including me. Relief!

Besides the treat of the styling, I also just did a lot of leisurely errand rounds, and picked up a bunch of books at the library, including a few recommended by Jane and Milla. My library is such a grand resource. I generally read fairly recent books, but if you go into the "stacks" and ride the funny little cage of an elevator from floor to floor, you can come upon what are most likely very valuable old first editions (and I am not even talking about the actual rare book room.) It is just a great place to wander about in, get lost in, and then ... come upon a treasure.

So...after all that leisurely errand doing, and leisurely prowling in the library stacks, I all of a sudden realized that I had better get a move on, get back over to the west side, have a quick dinner and hop it down to the book store, or probably would not stand a chance to actually entering the Michael Palin reading I wanted to attend.

Quick, quick and quick. Almost on time I was briskly walking along Broadway, headed for the book shop, when I saw a neighbor, and of course, stopped to say hello and see what the gossip was about the apartment building. All we old-timers are concerned about the ramifications of the new owners. The neighbor I encountered said she was still okay, since she like me, is a protected tenant. However, she told of another tenant who is not protected, who is in the process of fighting a recently initiated eviction process. Oh boy!

I just did not want to think about such traumas then, and don't want to right now, either.

On to the site of the reading. Well, it was mobbed. Every chair already taken, and every standing room spot also taken. What was left was the option to watch the proceedings through a glass wall and hear what was being read via closed circuit television. Those of us who arrived only 20 minutes early went for that option.

And, it was very entertaining. Palin is engaging, funny, energetic. He read scattered parts from the Diaries 1969-1979, The Python Years. For those of the gathered fans such as myself, it was a welcome step back in time. There were lots of young and very young people there as well, some of who probably were not born before 1990 or later. We had a great time.

Palin took lots of questions, and then sat down with his selection of felt tipped pens to sign anything that was put before him. Not just the current book for sale. No indeed. Folks had brought along all sorts of Python stuff for his signature. He signed them all. Lots of photos were taken. He just kept chatting with everyone, smiling and signing. A real gent.

What amazed me was that I did not recognize anyone in the assembled bunch of fans.

Today was also a day off for me. But, as is often the case, it was necessary for me to drop by the shop for a few hours to take care of a few things. Wish it were otherwise, but it was not.

Then a quick walk over to the greenmarket to replenish my produce assortment. Tomatoes, green beans, lettuce, squash, nectarines, and peaches. Scrumptious.

Back uptown for a few more errands, and then a bit of reading and working on my current knitting project. Today was mild, but overcast, so the light was not right for me to work on my oil painting. Got to wait for another day with real sun.

Had a few phone calls with friends, and a few that were shop-related too.

Then, off to another neighborhood bookshop for tonight's reading by Joyce Carol Oates.
I did take along a few notes that I had made from you all regarding possible questions for her, should the opportunity present itself.

I have seen many photos of JCO over the years and knew that she was a tiny person, with a very recognizable face. In person all this is true, but her presence and movement add another definition.

She does have a pointy chin and a rather heart-shaped face, seemed to wear no make up other than a reddish lipstick. Hair seemed undyed, and rather wispy sort of winging out from an irregular off-center parting. I wondered if she did comb it. Do not think so.

Very bony shoulders. Tiny body. Very large hands in proportion to her arms and the rest of her frame. She moves them around a lot.

She wore a strange white jacket open in front. The jacket was edged in fluting ruffles of the same white material. She seemed to have a yellowish blouse with long sleeves on under the jacket. She carried a small black fabric handbag with her to the podium. Her large glasses were in the handbag. She pulled out the glasses to read and when finished reading, returned them to the handbag.

Now, please forgive me, I cannot remember the name of the book from which she read. (Perhaps it is "The Museum of Dr. Moses") It is a hard cover collection of shortstories, and I think they are what she referred to as genre fiction (i.e. gothic, horror) rather than what she referred to as literary fiction.

She spoke quite a bit about the supposition of a connection with readers that a genre fiction writer has. She referenced workks of H.P. Lovecraft and Poe. She also spoke of loving to read the descriptive passages in Hardy and DH Lawrence.

She also spoke of the impact of the Bela Lugosi "Dracula" film on her young mind, perhaps somehow connected to her Hungarian grandfather.

Most of what Ms. Oates said, and her answers to various questions posed were delivered in a very dry manner, actually provoking quite a few laughs. She said that she liked trying to investigate states of mind in the world even though they might not be very pleasant.

She said that she does lots of preparation before beginning a book, and once she actually begins a book, she sees it through to completion.

I did get to be the final questioner of the evening, and made sure that she knew I was carrying with me unseen readers from the UK. I asked the question about how she selects her protagonist. She took quite a long time in answering, saying that the selection of a name was very important, and that she understood that the writer Elmore Leonard felt the same way about his characters. She cites examples of very good names that of Hamlet and Heathcliffe.

She felt that the title of the book, the first and last sentences established the structure a certain landscape from which the rest of the book's river and tributaries would flow.

Hoping that will give you all a bit of an idea of what was on offer in two book shops along Broadway on two September evenings.

Back to work for me tomorrow.

Pleasant dreams.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

City Views, Country Dreams

Good evening from New York on the first evening of September.

September starts our city's fall cultural calendar. There will be many, many events to attend, exhibits to see, concerts to hear. The nights will begin to cool. Even though now we still see green lawns and roses in bloom, soon we will see leaves turning yellow, rust, red, burnished brown. The leaves will fall.

I have posted some photos of some old paintings. One is from a series that I once busied myself with, interested in the textures of rocks and the beauty of vistas. The other combined another exploring of rocks, or rather pebbles and leaves. The summer during which I painted those leaves had been a very hot and dry summer, very unlike 2007. Green leaves were dropping and lying in crispy ripples all over the Park.

It is always a challenge to come upon changes that we do not anticipate, or welcome. I have seen many of these changes in my life, and am not too sure that experience has made me wiser.

When I was a young adult, freshly in New York, there were many changes to the accepted culture of the prior decade (the 50's) that were eagerly, maybe even greedily embraced. I felt that having moved to this city from where I grew up in the south meant that I had sort of jumped across more than a mere decade.

Ah, but at that same time, my generation as R. Daltrey might say, faced some not so great bits too. The Vietnam War, and the draft affected every family that I knew. It certainly affected how we viewed pursuit of happiness, govenmental responsibility and truthfulness, even our sense of time. Music, theatre, art, film bounced off of this dynamic.

In a way, perhaps that decade was a bit of an extended autumn. Before a winter.

It is swell to be able to trade ideas, and information, and experiences with you all on the site. Sometimes I think that my country has really lost the plot. People are very plugged into various electronic devices for hours each day, and this allows them the luxury to not communicate with each other. Many people ride in cars all by themselves, listening to some electronic device. Cell phones may provide some emergency access that is great, but back when, we just had pay phones on street corners. Many people listen only only to those whose opinions they share.

This has been a tough week on the political front over here. The current adminstration is reaping what it sowed, but we have to reap with it. The many candidates have campaigns that do not promise much in the way of improvement. Another poor harvest this fall.

But, today was a day off and I did get to the local farmers greenmarket and did find some more gloriously ripe tomatoes. I did go to a bank and got some euros and then bought a card. I will put the euros and the card into an envelope and give it to one of my staff members who will make her very first trip to Europe this week. She can use those euros to have a glass of something, in a cafe somewhere, as she realizes that the world is wider.

This afternoon, I treated myself to a view, on television, of the excellent Roger Federer in action at the U.S. Open. It is quite wonderful to see his grace, skill and good manners.

We had a very busy selling week at the shop, and our efforts also included organizing after-closing-hour evening moves of heavy fixtures off the sales floor on two nights, and returning the same heavies back to the floor the next morning. Overnight the cleared maple wood floor was beautifully refinished. It looks like a new floor was laid.

Before I began writing this, I had some sort of plan about what I wanted to express, and it did include praising the generous spirits who have made our site such a pleasure to visit.

I think that I have gone off the path, having not scribbled down any notes to guide me. Since I always think of the blog as a diary, I usually do not want to make preparatory notes, but rather just start typing. So, that is what I have done tonight, the first night of September.

Remember, officially it is still summer!

Pleasant dreams to all.