Archive for the ‘Things & Totems’ Category

Finally! The board game guide to escaping fundamentalism

March 9, 2015

map onlyI hope you love somewhat fake maps as much as I do.

I’m thrilled to introduce A Field Guide to Losing Your Religion … but Not Your Soul. It’s the 20-step plan you’ve been waiting for.

The topography of an un-conversion is wild, and I’m here to guide you through it. (With Dante! And Dickinson! And marshmallows! And Korean taco trucks!)

Completion may take several years, so why not start today?

Or, I’d love to see you over on my new site, which is

Zen and the existence of vending machines

December 20, 2010

Wherein the happiness assembly line seems more like a vending machine & furthermore wherein that turns out to be OK because vending machines are so awesome.

Vending machine, metaphor or both?

So I constructed this metaphor a while back about happiness being an assembly line — it takes work to build the life you want. It takes making deliberate choices to embrace what’s good in the world, while not turning away from what’s not so good like an oblivious jerk. Still true.

But it also turns out that life can be all devastating and stuff. I know we all knew that already. But let’s say you find yourself in the most painful, raw experience of your life. The gears of the assembly line get stuck. Actually, the whole thing sort of breaks. You still have to show up for life every day. But your heart might be busy for a while as you reassemble yourself. You might have to settle for a vending machine instead of an assembly line.

Know what I mean? You do what you can, in small pieces. You kick the machine when the things you want get stuck in there. Then you take the other thing that falls out instead.

Or so I decided this weekend when I saw this Santa vending machine. What I love about this temporary change of metaphor is that I love vending machines anyway. I mean, I love the weird ones. I’m assuming you know about the canned bread vending machines, the hot ramen vending machines and the Hello Kitty popcorn vending machines, not to mention the vending machines for unmentionables, umbrellas, fine china and what have you. And I’m assuming you also know that in Japan, you can get, like, tons of varieties of Kit Kats. Which would be an entirely different story except that I decided a long time ago to just go ahead and assume that a Kit Kat-only vending machine also exists somewhere. I guess I don’t need to mention that it’s probably shaped like a cat.

Anyway, it’s not as if I’ve been sitting around the last months waiting for another metaphor. I’ve been doing my best to summon happiness and to deal with my situation by such old standbys as…

  • Sitting with the pain and identifying patterns I see in my life, sometimes while curled under a faux fur blanket.
  • Deciding to be compassionate at every turn, no matter how hard that is.
  • Distracting myself by making art and by watching entire seasons at a time of Veronica Mars and The Wire.
  • Forcing myself to fill my car with gas (um, most of the time) and to walk into grocery stores even though I feel like boycotting life’s details as a way to register my protest with the universe.
  • Letting go of the pain, then picking it up and letting go again. Accepting things as they are, then not and then accepting them again. Repeat.
  • Remembering to live in the moment and appreciate it.
  • Listening to old favorites like Green Day and Spoon when my usual funk-world-hip-hop soundtrack sounds a little too happy to bear.
  • Meditating when I can sit still (brain science!) and saying mantras to myself when I’m about to careen off-track (even if it feels cheesy to admit) (which it does).
  • Wandering outside while appreciating the trees or the night sky.

And I guess it turns out that even if you’re struggling in a way you hadn’t thought possible, you can usually find some change in your pocket for whatever vending machine is in front you — you can muster some interior currency, even if it’s just the choice to get lost in the night sky.

So this particular vending machine that showed up in my inbox is a Santa that walks around with holiday presents inside. And when nothing else all season quite could, this thing registered as nice amid my distress-induced holiday ennui.

I didn’t write a charm-i-days gift guide again this year, but I hereby give you instead a vending-machine-Santa. I think you’re in good hands. Yes, that thing has hands. You’ve been warned.

Two other neat things I’ve recently discovered:

  • Yoshitomo Nara, one of my favorite artists, has a smartphone app. See?
  • A Mary Queen of Scots-themed restaurant opened in New York. See?

Remain on high alert for visionary impulses

January 31, 2010

Four ways to stay inspired, even at the end of January.

William Blake's visions await ...

Navigating the post-holiday, pre-Valentine waters of late January can be tricky. But the solution is quite simple, as it turns out: Just remember how many options you have for staying amused, engaged, inspired and otherwise satisfied.

1. Find visionaries at the push of a button.
As if it weren’t gratifying enough that we can now learn astrophysics whenever we please, as of this month, we can peruse – or even just glance at – William Blake’s notebook on the British Library’s website.

Think of it: the notebook he actually used for 30 years at our fingertips. How amazing is it that so much scholarship is so accessible these days? No one will judge you for feeling breathless.

2. Engage in some artful commerce.
Take your art with you throughout the day instead of leaving it at home on the wall. What have those walls done for you lately anyway?

Hewitt’s darlings

3. When confronted, make no excuse for watching cute animals.
The opportunity for a moment that warms your heart is never farther away than the nearest internet tube. Are there too many animal videos? Yes? Are most of them worth the effort? No. Don’t argue. Don’t discuss with friends. Just watch one now and then, especially if it’s a Japanese commercial with a cat on a business trip or a New York lottery commercial for cuddly animals sleeping or enjoying carnival rides.

4. Let the sandwich be your canvas.
Seriously, have you invented a good sandwich lately? Why, just the other day I mixed mayonnaise with crumbled goat cheese and quite enjoyed the results. Imagine what you could do this time of year if you kept a jar of chutney handy.

The portable art
SFMOMA artist T-shirts, $24.50
Catalina Estrada bowl, $16
Catalina Estrada gel skins, prices vary
Fiona Hewitt small bag, $6.50
Mayonnaise, prices also vary

Charm-i-days: Felt bowls and vases

December 7, 2009

Handmade bowls of wooly goodness.

Deeply felt gifts.

Innovative use of textile? Check.

Stylish shapes and vibrant colors? Check.

Thoughtful application of renewable resource? Check.

Unmistakable desire to have some sitting around my house? Check.

Designed and handmade by Patty Benson, these felt bowls and vases provide an unexpected pop of color and texture. Benson combines the techniques of crocheting and wet felting and fashions bowls and vases out of wool instead of the more expected ceramic or wood. The small bowls are ideal for keeping your keys or favorite jewelry handy, while the larger ones make stunning centerpieces.

For a fun hostess gift over the holidays, consider filling the small felted plant cozy with a rosemary plant or a Tickle-Me plant, which was one of last year’s most popular Charm-i-days ideas.

Felted bowls and vases, $36 and up at Rare Device
Tickle-Me plant party favor, $5.95

Charm-i-days: Saints in your pocket and a drug-free high

December 3, 2009

Illuminate someone on your holiday gift list by pairing a righteous book or two with just the right accessory.

Saintliness, now found in pockets and boxes.

Jason Boyett’s Pocket Guide to Sainthood: A Field Manual for the Super-Virtuous Life captures the glory, the shame and the silliness of saints throughout history. Starting with St. Ambrose and ending with St. Vincent de Paul (surprisingly, not the only saint who was captured by pirates), Boyett irreverently chronicles the miracles and trivia surrounding everyone’s favorite saints – and also the ugliest one. Boyett includes the saints’ miracles but also tidbits he generously labels “what not to venerate,” such as, you know, mass slaughters and the like.

Boyett’s consistently entertaining tone and unexpected asides create an amusing backdrop for what’s actually a highly informative book. The section about Mother Mary, for example, will clear up her status once and for all for any confused non-Catholic. The book lists a glossary of saintly terms as well which saints to call upon for any occasion from watching television to paratrooping.

Flaunting the holy.

So what to pair with this “witty, weird and sometimes even wise” – as reviewer Daniel Radosh declared – book? A plastic tribute to St. Clare, patron saint of television, of course. I personally have had this beatific statue from Archie McPhee unobtrusively positioned near my television for several months, and I’ve never felt more enriched by my small-screen viewing. Alternately, pair the book with a saints bracelet from Signals.

175 ways to transcend.

For a book with fewer religious trappings but more spirituality than you can shake an incense stick at, give someone on your list Get High Now (Without Drugs) by James Nestor. I mentioned the Get High Now website earlier this year, but you can’t very well wrap up a website and put it under the tree. (Not that I’m saying you aren’t clever. You are – I know you are. I’m just saying it’s easier to wrap a book.) Actually, the book isn’t about spirituality per se or New Age-style meditation: It details the science behind drug-free highs and which techniques – meditative and otherwise – are proven to work.

Nestor advocates against trying every technique he mentions (avoid the bee sting approach, he stubbornly insists) and includes surprising hallucinogens such as giraffe liver. Some of the techniques, though, are as simple as breathing, which is the first of the suggestions that Nestor himself tried years ago as he uncovered research that an eccentric uncle left behind when he died. His uncle’s notes eventually became this book, which is fascinating and funny and gives you more than 175 ways to alter your consciousness.

2 transcendence aids.

You’d think giving a person 175 ways to change his or her life would provide enough holiday cheer, but go one more step and throw in some Buddha mints, a tin of Badger meditation balm that smells like sandalwood or my favorite incense – the desert pinion sticks really do smell like you’re having a mountaintop experience with a fire crackling nearby (no cloying aroma, I promise).

So many convenient ways to reach enlightenment these days.

Pocket Guide to Sainthood, $11
St. Clare statue, $5
Saints bracelet, $30
Get High Now (Without Drugs), $10
Buddha mints, $2.50
Badger meditation balm, $8
Juniper Ridge incense, $8

Also of note …
Christmas post on Jason Boyett’s blog
Get High Now site

Charm-i-days: Cake card holder

December 1, 2009

In a word, yum.

If you like it, then you shoulda put a cake on it.

The Charm-o-Matic is declaring this cake card holder from The Curiosity Shoppe 2009’s cutest stocking stuffer. This illustrious honor went last year to Tokyo Milk lip balm, and this year’s winner is equally pastel-ish in overtones with a slice of realism and old-fashioned goodness.

I’m endlessly fascinated by depictions of food from bygone eras, whether they’re gorgeous, elaborate Cavallini reproductions or the more unfortunate remembrances of the Gallery of Regrettable Food. So when it comes to a nostalgic-looking, food-related item that I can carry around with me, I’m utterly powerless to resist.

The pink-frosted, yellow layer cake featured here looks like the delicious birthday sweet your grandmother may have made for you once a long time ago. Except, you know, you can put this one in your pocket.

The card holder can accommodate business cards or IDs and is handmade in Los Angeles.

Cake card holder, $12

Charm-i-days: Pomaireware plus adoration

November 27, 2009

Pass whatever’s in that fetching casserole dish, please.

So much to adore, so little time.

Ideal for the people on your list who fancy themselves domestic, these Pomaireware fish- and pig-shaped dishes are more than cute – they’re versatile, lead-free (unlike some clay dishes) and fair trade-certified. Sounds like a stylish and peaceful way to bake.  These pots from are happy in the oven, on the stove or in the microwave, and they may lure all kinds of people into the kitchen. Handmade in Pomaire, Chile.

Consider giving a dish along with a similarly endearing “I adore you” dish towel from Blue Q or an inspiring cookbook:  See NPR’s list of best new cookbooks in 2009 for ideas.

Pomaireware Handcrafted Bakers from, $35.50
I Adore You Dish Towel from Blue Q, $9.99

Charm-i-days: ‘Keep Calm’ bandages

November 10, 2009

King George VI didn't see this coming.

No, seriously – keep calm and carry on.

Now that the bright, World War II-era “Keep Calm and Carry On” replica poster has been popular for a few years, you can find the design not only hanging in sophisticated homes (hmm, maybe I’m biased) but also emblazoned on tote bags, T-shirts, golf balls and coffee mugs. Of course, you could also pick up one of the spoofs that advise freaking out or eating cake instead of keeping calm. Even better than that – and ideal for a stocking stuffer – go for these bandages available at Urban Outfitters.

The sentiment of the British poster, designed anonymously during the war and hung around London as an encouragement to its beleaguered citizens, will surely sustain you through any paper cut or splinter wound as you apply the bandage and stiffen your upper lip.

Keep Calm bandages, $8
Keep Calm T-shirts, $20

It’s time for the 2009 Charm-i-days gift guide – we’ll lead up to the holidays one charming, thoughtful gift at a time.

Tokyo Milk lights me up (again)

August 9, 2009
Tokyo Milk from Fred Flare

Tokyo Milk from Fred Flare

This company gets more delightful by the day – and by the night, if that’s when you light candles.

My only wish about Tokyo Milk’s lip balms when I discovered them was that the designs were on the packaging of the balm itself and not just on the box. And while I realize that their attention to my every wish is no doubt inadvertent, I couldn’t help but be pleased with myself when I saw their new candles at Fred Flare.

These pretty candles come in tins, so you know what that means:  Blowing out the candle for the last time may lead to an extremely cute storage device.

While the pull these Tokyo Milk products have on me is all about the design sensibility, the candles smell great, too. The one featuring a cake is called Eat Cake and smells like vanilla with a little coconut. The tin with the retro dress patterns is called Paper & Cotton; it has a bright aroma, if that’s possible, and is scented with birch wood and sage.

I do try not to repeat myself too often lest certain gears on the Charm-o-Matic wear thin, but I am powerless when it comes to designs that blend whimsy and sophistication.

Tokyo Milk travel candles, $14 at

Soft lips, full pocketbook

February 3, 2009

Just a spoonful of sugar helps your chapped lips go down, thanks to a budget-friendly DIY exfoliator.

Lip-smacking assemby line

My lip-smacking assembly line

Winter is taking a toll on my skin this year, but I’m pleased as sugary citrus punch to have found a solution for my lips that only cost me pennies. I’ve read this year that the secret to soft lips is exfoliating, and I decided it must be true a couple of weeks ago after several days of incessant lip balm applications were to no avail.

Then I ran across this post on Bella Sugar with instructions to make your own lip exfoliator. My personal talents usually don’t extend to the DIY realm, but this effort consists of simple ingredient assembly. I’d say my pet monkey could do it, but I think we all know I don’t have a pet monkey.

Just mix together a teaspoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of honey, two teaspoons of white granulated sugar and a dash of lemon juice. I didn’t have any lemons, so I settled for a lime. I also didn’t actually bother to measure anything. Then rub some onto your lips and sweep back and forth.

Before finding that idea, I’d had my eye on this prettily packaged tube of buffing beads from Benefit, which is one of the exfoliators recommended by the Law & Order: Beauty woman (aka “cosmetics cop”) Paula Begoun. (No, there isn’t really a Law & Order: Beauty edition … I’m just delirious from all the sugar on my lips.) The lip balm & exfoliator duo is cute, but I also had my eye on my budget, and I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on $32.

So read my lips and pull from your cupboards instead. The result is sweet, cheap and effective.

Lipscription, $32
DIY recipe, free

(I also found instructions for DIY lip balm, but that’s way out of my league.)