Tag Archives: design

California revisited


Hanging out in Long Beach, California.

I’ve been away–both metaphorically and figuratively–and have ended up untethered from my writing for a while. I think we do that when what we have to write isn’t going to be easy. In fact, it will feel more like a tonsillectomy without anaesthetic I’m sure. But I digress. So, where was I anyway? Long Beach, California. A place that I think once likely had a sheen to it but since the recession has a decidedly tired feel, like a convention town without the big acts playing anymore. But there were still palm trees and a pool and I got to present to universities from across North America on my Transmedia character named Emily who I created for a sustainability campaign last year so that was kind of great.

The highlight of the trip, however, was visiting the Queen Mary. Being a hotel nut, this was on my bucket list and it did not let me down. The old world elegance was there in her bones and as you walked the length of the teak deck you could imagine corsets twisting, tiny umbrellas dipping, waiters whisking drinks away and courtly flirtations all happening along the remarkable length of this stately ship.

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The ship was built in 1939 and the art deco details still remain. Apparently, 1.5 Titanic’s could fit inside the Queen Mary! Still used as a hotel, I ran into guests amidst the many tours that were being hustled around the ship and wished I’d stayed overnight. I did feel that the management could put a lot more effort into the tourism experience since I for one considered it to be a once-in-a-lifetime visit. They could take some lessons from a few of the heritage Fairmont properties in Canada.


Whenever I am in California, I always have the sensation of duality. On one level, I am so happy to look up and see palm trees and feel the warm air on my skin and slurp on beachside margaritas but on another I remember myself as a young woman with dreams and desires who worked, first in my sister’s print shop then in the San Diego regional theatre, and drove the California coast with my ‘official’ Californian licence plates. But my time there was also a time in my life when I had been lost, misguided and searching for a life that would bring meaning, joy and love to me. I found it, just not in California.

I do still like to visit though, mostly because there’s few things more joyful than a palm tree against a blue sky with miles of beach ahead of you.



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Filed under Non-fiction, Solo Travel

The Patterns of Life

The other day I was in a thrift store and stumbled across an old collection of dress patterns. It brought me back to the days when my mother and I would drive down to Gold’s Fabrics at Arbutus and 12th in Vancouver. My mother could sew and knit and despite trying to teach me numerous times, I resisted and instead suggested I just be her model. My mother was quite an accomplished  seamstress and spent countless hours at the sewing machine creating outfits for me, and sometimes my sister, various household items like curtains, and repairing the clothes of her large family in order to save money. The dresses she made for me, despite my creative direction however, never turned out the way I wanted.  I never had the heart to say I didn’t like it as she beamed up at me from cutting a thread off the hem of the finished dress. But I knew in my heart that was how it would always be because of our trips to Gold’s Fabrics.

We would walk in and to the right of the heavy glass doors were row upon row of drawers of patterns organized by designer. At the front were Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick, and other what I considered ‘average’ patterns that my mother liked to frequent. At the back were the more expensive patterns; this is where I skidaddled to in my hand-me down clothes and dusty flip-flops I may or may not have inherited from my brother.

I dove into those drawers and pulled out each package, turning it gently over in my hands, looking carefully at the evening dresses, the styling of hair and makeup of each illustration and lost myself in Vogue’s chic style. Sometimes my mother would come around and poke her nose over my shoulder and make her usual tsking sound and sometimes, if I pointed out how she could, if she tried, easily fashion a gown for me, she would start walking away saying with a small shake of her head, “oh no, no, no” as though I had just asked her to drive me in a convertible to the moon.


I realized I was up against a mountain that wouldn’t move. There was no swaying my mother over to my haute couture world. She was seeking simple, cheap, easy-to-make and I was hoping for Chanel. Sometimes I would try to persuade her to jazz it up with creative buttons or ribbon or coloured zippers which could be found for miles in the centre of the warehouse-size store. She would laugh as though my request was absurd and sometimes I found my foot coming down hard on the linoleum floor in my frustration. This would make her tsk again and say, “Margaret, you have champagne tastes on a beer budget I’m afraid.” This was always her go-to phrase when she felt I was reaching too far. As in a fuchsia zipper or rhinestone button.

Maybe it was because my mom grew up on a farm and lived through the Depression. Maybe because, despite living in Point Grey in a big house, she never had much money. Or maybe she was a simple woman who was content with what she had in life, something I am only now in my forties seeing the value of:  life as it is rather than life as I imagine it in my head.

But just to be clear, I’ll never be a Simplicity woman. I’ll always be Vogue.
vogue mermaid gown pattern


Filed under Memoir

On the dangers of an uncreative life and why code can save you from it

Detail of an illustration by Brendan Doyle. Genius artist.

Detail of an illustration by Brendan Doyle.

I keep telling my son ‘the great golden era of creativity is coming’. I have told him since he did his first watercolour at 15 months he’s a genius. I’ve cried at every picture he’s ever drawn for they are wonders of beauty. I’ve sat across from him at the dinner table and debated brand stories, slagged off ads, argued the value of a tagline, discussed why certain fonts shouldn’t be allowed the light of day. He’s always my go-to with any creative idea for my business. He’s just 18 but knows more than most creative directors I’ve met.

But I wonder, without coding skills, if he can make money in the new economy?

The magic bullet is design + code + strategic mindset. If you can develop concepts and actually know how to execute them online then you have some leverage. He tells me he doesn’t want a lot of money, he just wants to be happy. I look at the bills in Vancouver and the cost of living and wonder when the shine will fall off his innocence and the reality of living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world will bite him. Hard.

I truly believe that the era of creativity is here and will continue to grow and artistic skills will become a commodity that is worth  more than business skills because to register online, to break through, you have to have remarkable creativity. Because it is competitive out there. Cutthroat even. Creativity is the only certain differentiator. But it needs code to grow.

I hope my son will not settle for a regular job. I can’t tell him what to do but if there were a wizard career wand, I’d equip him with magical coding powers so he could fully emancipate himself from the dangers of an uncreative life.

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The storyworld of your youth

I bought my first Vogue at the age of seven. I lugged it home, close to my chest, like a cultural flak jacket against my family, who I had realized early on were more focused on ball bearings, battles and my mother’s sourdough cheese biscuits. I think the storyworld of Vogue was incredibly influential to me in my experience of the world growing up and germinated core story themes that stay with me to this day. It wasn’t the fashion so much as the design that I found liberating and deeply satisfying to devour as I flipped the slim, slick pages sitting in my back yard in the shade looking at the advertising and editorial shoots. I never differentiated as one page being ‘better’ then another; they were simply colours and shapes and textures that I either liked or in very few cases, did not like. And despite what some may say, the essay articles in Vogue were incredibly well-written and opened up my young mind to a world beyond my small neighourhood and cloistered Catholic parish and community.

I remember looking at a risqué  shoot by the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once and being so transfixed that I didn’t hear my mother come up behind me. She snapped: ‘What is that?’ and I clutched the magazine in my hands and ran inside. I was so terrified she might take this precious world from me, I am quite sure I would have kept on running should she have pursued me.

The storyworld’s of our youth stay with us. They imprint, in ways both mysterious and obvious, a sort of lifelong spine of a story we can take comfort in as adults. For me, the fashion industry is doing interesting work in photography, motion, design, and converging art with technology and creativity in a way that is ever-compelling and continues to draw me into a bewitching storyworld of design, elegance, intellect, and beauty.

Below is an interesting exploration of the Vogue storyworld with one of its great editors, Alexander Shulman:

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Filed under Non-fiction