- Industrial Romantic necklace with onyx, hematite and Bali silver -
Before Pluto entered Capricorn and the wrecking ball was unleashed on independent businesses (as well as non-independent), I started working for a cool little Jewish man in his cool little store called Art of My Heart, which I've written about on the blog.
It was at this job I learned that I know how to make bead jewellery designs. In the same way I discovered that I know how to practice astrology, I was given the opportunity to draw something to the surface that had been there all along, and I'm ever-grateful.
Art of My Heart was an art and curiousity shop that a man I'll call Harold had been running by himself (with supplemental help from various colourful part-time employees) for a decade-and-a-half. Harold was a world traveller and importer and an art and beauty lover. He travelled to various countries over the years, buying art and curiousities and bringing them back to sell in the store. His favourite place was Bali, Indonesia.
Art of My Heart was located in the downtown mall and was basically an anachronism. Harold had moved in many years prior when mall culture was vastly different - ie. independently-owned businesses were still being allowed to operate. That was changing very quickly. The Pluto in Cap writing was on the wall, and as time went on, indie-owned businesses were having their rents increased to unsustainable amounts or were not having their leases renewed at all. They were dropping one-by-one, and as the plans for wide-scale gentrifying renovations in the mall drew nearer, Harold and his wonderful store, among the final independent hold-outs, were increasingly unwelcome.
The squeeze was on.
I was traipsing through Canada's most cleansed and corporatized city, Calgary, at the time like a refugee ghost trapped between worlds, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. Astrology had taken me over a few years prior. I was sure of the path I was taking on that front. I was committed. I just wasn't sure how I was supposed to sustain myself financially along the way.
I was between a rock and a hard place (with a fixed t-square on the angles, one will often find oneself there), in a temporary living situation that was increasingly tense and overwhelming. I was drowning and desperately needed to find my own place to live.
The vacancy rate was hovering around 0.7% at the time. There was very little to rent and what there was was highly inflated. I went to see one dirty, rickety, studio apartment that should have been condemned with a $750/month price tag (and this was 2006). Without a steady source of income (ie. my fledgling astrology business wouldn't cut it), I was hooped.
One day in late fall, I officially gave up on life and decided to get a job at the mall as holiday help - any job I could tolerate doing, which was a tall order.
I went to Customer Service and asked if the girl manning the desk knew of any stores that were hiring. This was at the height of the housing and labour shortage, and the girl told me something that would turn out to be profound. She said, "I think they're pretty much all hiring right now. Just look at the directory and see where you'd like to work and apply."
Of all the jobs I had done up to that point (and there had been many), it had never once crossed my mind that I could work somewhere I wanted to work. And that I might actually find something. This was revelatory.
I looked at the mall directory and saw something that seemed interesting - a store called Art of My Heart. I located Art of My Heart on the map and went to find it, resume in hand.
I walked down the hallway where it was supposed to be, but it appeared there was nothing down there. I turned to go back to the directory but decided to go just a bit further and saw it.
There was an overwhelming amount of stuff in the store, so I pushed through a little goat trail through it all to a counter located at the back of the store. There, behind a sort of ornately-carved wooden confessional nailed to the counter, was a fifty-something man in a ball cap sitting on a stool. I ducked my head down to peer through the opening of the wooden confessional thing (maybe it was a puppet theatre?) and asked if he might be hiring help for the holidays. He said maybe.
I went back the next day and asked again. Again, he said maybe.
I went back again, and that time, despite his resistance, I was hired on a part-time basis.
This guy needed my help. Badly. And I needed the work equally badly.
Art of My Heart was full of rich, gorgeous, delightful items from around the world - if you could find them.
The place looked like a hoarder's garage sale, albeit a culturally-rich one. There was no rhyme or reason. Everything was thrown together, piled on top of each other, topsy turvy. Only about half the stuff was even priced. Everything was dusty.
The dingy, gray carpet hadn't been vacuumed in ten years. Yes, ten years. The floor was coated in a layer of dust, dirt, grime, old price tags, and packing material.
If the store looked like a hoarder's garage sale, the back room was the hoarder's official lair. Parting the curtain made out of a sarong, I saw broken furniture, puppets with missing limbs, tangled shell curtains, chipped masks, cracked ceramics, dirty, handmade carpets, crumbling terra cotta candle holders, glass mosaics with lost squares, pieces of leather, fur, straw, paint, shellac. Harold hated to throw any beautiful thing away, convinced he would some day be able to fix it. Everything was stuffed in to the rafters, and, as in the main store area, there was a narrow goat trail leading to the bathroom.
Ah, yes. The bathroom. The bathroom, too, had not been cleaned in at least ten years. A layer of grey-black filth covered the toilet and sink. The toilet bowl itself was orange-brown. I was actually a bit in shock when I saw it. Cleaning that thing was one of the first tasks I set out for myself (Harold never would have asked me to do it), and later, after the Willow-style transformation of the store was complete, Harold said, "It all started when you cleaned that bathroom."
- Ornate sterling Bali bead with turquoise earrings -
On my first day of work, my assignment from Harold was to show people jewellery. He had four or five lovely, old display cases full of jewellery that had to be opened for customers. And I would have been happy to show people the jewellery - it was gorgeous - if I could find it! Bracelets, earrings, necklaces, pendants, rings - everything had been dumped into the display cases by the handful, just tossed in like the tangled, gnarled mess of a child's costume jewellery box. One earring would be in one display case, and its match would be found in another display case across the store. A lot of it was not priced, nor were the stones labelled. So I started the intricate work of putting these display cases in some type of order.
At the end of the day at the store, there was more fun. The massive floor-to-ceiling screen door to close the shop was basically falling off the hinges. You had to drag the thing along as the steel screeched and moaned, making sure you didn't pull too aggressively or the whole thing would come apart.
Harold was a music fan, especially Bob Dylan. He would put the same song on repeat and listen to it all day. All day. The same song. Until finally, I couldn't stand the song boring into my skull any longer and would change it. Eventually, we got into a rhythm. Harold would open the store in the morning and put his song on repeat. I would come in at noon and take it off repeat.
Sometimes Harold would bring mini-buffets of Chinese food up from the food court for us to eat. He would make the poor employee take four pieces of this, three of that, five of that, creating a combo plate that didn't exist on the menu.
Harold didn't believe in making anyone do anything he or she didn't want to do. This made him an extremely easy-going boss, but it did create some problems in the running of the store. One of his previous employees was a hippie girl who would be scheduled to work in the late morning but had a problem getting up before 1 p.m. Harold just worked around it.
The chaotic look of the store reflected the chaos of the way the store was operated. After many, many years in retail, Harold had a strong aversion to dealing with people. It didn't help that people often made outrageous demands, trying to take advantage, and that Harold was too scared of them to stand up for himself. (The bourgeois who fancy themselves artsy and cultured are a very specific breed of pain in the ass.)
I didn't blame him. I had had a bellyful of customer service by that point myself. The problem was, he was your standard Libra who would make promises to customers just to make nice and get out of the interaction and then not deliver. The customers would then call me or come in repeatedly, making me the middleman, and I had to field it while trying to nail Harold down. This would be carried on to a ridiculous extent. So many excuses and weaselings out that we could have been on a British comedy.
That's how good this guy's stuff was, though. He had lasted 15 or so years in business with people barely able to locate the goods to purchase, being strung along with all kinds of promises he couldn't keep.
And I was in my element. My Virgo/Scorpio was made for that type of assignment. I gently woke dormant energies in the store, getting gears moving that hadn't moved in years. I cleaned, sorted, organized, labelled, displayed, priced, created new store policies, and tried to set 15 years of creative chaos to some type of order without losing the original charm. Some felt I failed on that front, but I did the best I could.
The thing was, I knew things were coming 'Pluto in early Capricorn' unglued. I knew we had to get the store's act together if we were to have any chance of staying in the mall. So I tried to get things moving in that direction. Harold, however, was freaked out by the sense of change in the air and dug his heels in on every issue. I had to inch forward, bit-by-bit, and if I pushed just a bit too far, there was a meltdown. The way of Scorpionic transformation.
We fought like a son-of-a-bitch. It was almost cliched. Two strong-willed, blazing-eyed, tempestuous creative types who really didn't give much of a fuck anymore having it out, yelling at each other as the ship starts to go down. It was old school.
Can you imagine such a scene going down in the ever-more-homogenized malls of today? It's a good thing Art of My Heart was located in the middle of nowhere, down a hall almost no one ever used.
I wanted more hours. He wanted to give me fewer.
I wanted an employment contract. He refused to give me one.
He wanted me to take apart one of the necklaces I made to use the beads for a bracelet for a customer instead. I said I wouldn't. He did it himself.
He wanted to keep all the broken stuff in the back room so he could (one day) fix it. I knew this was not going to happen and nagged him to clear it up.
He said he would do things by a certain date and didn't do them, forcing me to nag incessantly.
We had cultural battles.
And on and on.
- Turquoise and Bali silver bracelet and earrings -
Throughout it all, I was making jewellery like a house on fire.
Harold found gorgeous beads on his trips. Unpacking the crates after he came back from his buying trip was like finding treasure. I would make new designs, put them out in the display case, and most of them were purchased within a couple weeks. Sometimes I would put something out, and it would go the next day. It was a winning combination, Harold and I.
So I was pouring all I had into making sure Art of My Heart made the transition. If we couldn't stay in the mall, I was going to do my damnedest to put us in good position for a new location. I was going to make Art of My Heart run like a well-oiled machine. This was the plan.
I gave it my all, and I thought we actually might make it. The mall gave us a new and coveted spot on the ground floor as our old space was gutted. The jewellery was selling well. The furniture was doing well. People were all over the masks and art. We were actually starting to make some money.
And then they booted us. They told us when the current lease was up, which was a couple months away, we were out.
And then one day I walked up to the mall entrance and saw an ambulance parked outside, lights flashing. I knew who it was there for. I went into the store and saw some paramedics in the back room, surrounding Harold. A customer was there in tears and said she thought he had had a stroke. He'd been talking to her, sipping his coffee, when it started dribbling out of his mouth.
A paramedic came out of the back room and told me Harold was refusing to go to the hospital. There was nothing they could do. They couldn't force him into the ambulance. They left the store, and I locked the front door and went into the back.
Harold told me he was fine, that it was no big deal. His mouth was drooping on the left side.
I told him he was not fine, that he had probably had a stroke, and that he needed to go to the hospital.
He insisted he was fine, that nothing was wrong.
I knelt down in front of him and told him to smile.
"I can't," he said, mouth drooping.
I made him squeeze my hand. His grip was weak.
He got up and started searching for his drill to work on a cabinet.
"You're going!" I shouted, starting to cry a bit in frustration.
I called his wife and told her Harold was having a medical emergency and refused to go to the hospital.
"Oh, no!" she said, "You have to be kidding me. My dog is sick right now, too!"
These people had five aging dogs that were like their children - literally. Harold had spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years trying to keep his senior citizen canines alive.
I convinced her it was really sort of a bad situation, and she came to pick him up.
I kept the store open over the holidays, working alone, and managed to stay on top of the rush. I visited Harold in the hospital on Christmas Day. He was weak but looked pretty good. He was going to be OK, though he had a long recovery ahead.
- Amber and turquoise earrings -
When I realized Art of My Heart was truly no more - that there wasn't going to be a new location, that there would be no resurrection - I was devastated, not to mention at a huge energy deficit. I'd worked there for two-and-a-half years. This was the first and only job I'd ever loved, and I was good at it. We were just starting to make some headway, and Harold deserved to have a profitable, successful store. But it wasn't going to happen. Yet another one of those Plutonic life lessons.
A lot of people are having those right now as far as work and career go...
Working there almost feels like a dream at this point. Like I dreamed up the coolest place I could think of to work with the most interesting, kooky, funny, insane, kind-hearted employer I could imagine.
I bought back some of my designs from Harold and made some new ones, carrying on up until now as Weeping Willow Designs. Harold has mostly recovered from his stroke, though he has not opened a new store.
Now, Mars is opposite stationing Neptune in Aquarius, moving through the last degrees of Leo before entering Virgo November 10. A two-year creative cycle is complete.
The price of silver has now made it prohibitive to continue making jewellery with sterling beads, and I'm not sure what will happen moving forward. What I do know is I loved every minute of making this stuff.
If anyone is looking for a special item for a gift (or a personal treat) for the holidays or just because, please peruse the wares:
WEEPING WILLOW BEAD DESIGNS
They're my well-loved original designs, made with semi-precious stones, freshwater pearls and handcrafted Bali silver beads. All findings and earring hooks are sterling silver. And they all have a little bit of Art of My Heart energy in them, which is now priceless.
I also have a few new designs I haven't photographed yet, so check back later if interested.
All Art of My Heart articles.