Art of My Heart in its original location in the TD Square Mall (photo from 2007). Art of My Heart operated in this location for more than 15 years. The main jewellery case is on the left.
I worked for two and a half years at a wonderful and magical import art store in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, called Art of My Heart. During that time, the owner and I developed a successful bead jewellery line that specialized in semi-precious stone, freshwater pearl, and Bali silver combinations. Art of My Heart was a dream job, and the loss of it during a wave of early Pluto in Capricorn hyper-gentrification still causes a pang in my heart to this day. Thank you to the owner of this business for his vision, his heart, and his artistry. He made Calgary a better, more soulful, and more beautiful place, and I'm sure his absence is still felt by his old customers and friends to this day.
The owner has sent me some fabulous beads from time to time since he closed his shop, and I have some bead jewellery creations (some old and some new) for sale at the Willow's Web Astrology Etsy shop.
What follows are a few articles I wrote during my time with Art of My Heart (2006 - 2009) and just afterward. (I have to say, I appreciate the late-twentysomething snark in some of these!)
From November 6, 2011
Mabe pearl pendant with freshwater pearl and Bali silver beads
Before Pluto entered Capricorn and the wrecking ball was unleashed on independent businesses (as well as non-independent), I started working for a cool 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 traveler and importer and an art and beauty lover. He traveled 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.
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 terracotta 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."
All Bali silver bracelet - handmade, sterling silver beads
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 double bead with Bali silver 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.
Turquoise, agate, and onyx necklace with copper-coloured accents
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.
The price of silver has now made it somewhat 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), you can peruse the wares I still have for sale here:
My general portfolio of old and new designs can be seen here:
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.
Art of My Heart in its original location (photo from 2007)
Tales from the Retail Frontlines Episode #1 - Fun With Mature Souls
From June 9, 2009
I'm searching for something of importance in what she's saying to me like a tuner searching for a channel, but it's all static. A wall of irritating, buzzing, ego bass trying to force its way into my system. A crack has developed in the teak frame of a mirror she purchased. Unfortunately, it happens. It's tropical wood trying to adjust to Calgary dryness. The owner can repair it. I've let her know. She knows. There's some back story. Apparently the owner said he would get her a different mirror on his next trip to Bali. I explain. The owner had a stroke and now the store is closing. He won't be going overseas again any time soon. I try to nudge into her consciousness that things have changed. She's pissed that he didn't let her know. I guess because she should be top of the list of post-stroke priorities. Her indignance over this mirror shows no sign of letting up. She doesn't want a store credit. She wants this mirror. The items from this store are knock-em-dead beautiful. Even if she found something similar elsewhere, it would be three times the price. “I'm sorry, but as I said, you'll have to talk to the owner about repairing it. I have your name and number, and you have his, so that's all that can really be done right now.” That should be that. I've given her the next step to having her problem solved. I can't fix it myself. The owner is not in. Arrangements will have to be made with him. She's not going to get answers this minute, and I guess that's the problem. Frustrated demands for instant gratification. She's a person who is used to people jumping when she says jump, whenever she slaps the Visa Gold card down. So she buzzes on, past the point where I've done what I can do about it. I guess she didn't get the memo that I'm too old and bored for this shit. Because my calm, matter-of-fact demeanor sets her off. She's gunning for a reaction. Wants to goad me into “crossing the line” with her. Ha. Please. “Well, thanks for all your help! It's great that you're so nonchalant about it!” She's using her hands to make her point, and I can't help but notice the biggest fucking blood diamond I've ever seen on her left finger. Blood on your hands? Yessum. She's expecting the usual corporate, “customer is always right” ass-kissing. In this store, you get realism. At least from me. And I see it's not going down too well. She's an eyeroll-inducing cliche. Over-privileged mature soul with all the entitlement issues that capitalism has taught her to have. And so am I. Tired old soul who can't be bothered with this ridiculousness anymore. (War criminals running our nations. Media propaganda. Depleted uranium poisoning. Deformed babies. Tortured prisoners. A million dead Iraquis. 3,500 dead American soldiers. 119 dead Canadians and counting. 1,800 dead Katrina victims who were supposed to “just drive out of there.” Working class dying for the rich man's stock portfolio. The Amazon is almost gone. Appalachians are being clearcut. Alberta oilsands poisoning our water and land. Natives with bizarre cancers. The biggest white collar crime in history committed against the people. Teen girls with Chanel purses. Wage slavery. Domestic violence. People are hungry. Misery. The trail of homeless pushing their shopping carts through the snow outside my apartment window. Drive-by shootings on the next block. The store is closing. Kicked out of our location due to Toronto-prescribed gentrification plans. My inflated rent is due. The dentist wants $400 for a cleaning and check-up. They hate you if you don't have those big, bleached Chiclet teeth. Only yuppies can afford to buy real food anymore. The rest of us are being slowly starved.) I'm being berated because I can't rouse the last of my righteous indignation for her. Because there's a crack in her teak mirror frame and she can't have it fixed as soon as she snaps her perfectly-manicured fingers. What injustice. How can I go on in such a world? When she finally understands she will get nowhere with the likes of me, that there's no use picking at the corpse, she leaves in a perfumed huff. I take a breath and still my Scorpio guts. Another customer, a man, who has been quietly perusing the art the whole time this scene was going on, turns to me and says quietly, “Patience is a virtue.”
Tales from the Retail Frontlines Episode #2
From June 9, 2009
Mid-twenties customer holding designer purse: "I don't know. Two hundred dollars for a piece of art? I could buy a pair of jeans for that, you know?"
Me: [blank look]
Art of My Heart's new, ground floor location - we operated there for a matter of months until the owner's lease was not renewed by the mall.
RIP Art of My Heart
(AKA Dodging and Weaving to Avoid the Pluto in Capricorn Steamroller)
From May 23, 2009
I'm just waiting. Inside the fortress that is me. The only place that feels good.
I'm waiting for this wave of hyper-gentrification to run out of steam so that I can properly assess the situation. At the moment, even walking down the street feels like a blast from an overexposed dystopian imagery furnace. Fake light and happy, grinding its pointy high heel into my eye. A nouveau riche nightmare. Teenagers in brand new, sickeningly overpriced clothes designed to look "lived in." Street-tastic! Carrying Chanel purses (yes, high schoolers with Chanel), cell phones, and iced coffees.
They look straight out of the pages of InStyle (Star/People/US Weekly) magazine, so I can see why they feel entitled. That takes a lot of effort.
Mount Royal Starbucks where you'll get the snobby once-over just for going in to get a take-out coffee. They can sniff out non-upper-mid-class-yuppie status.
It's a fucking wasteland. Sorry, but it is.
The so-called alternative crowd drinking overpriced, artisanal beer, eating overpriced breakfasts in pseudo-retro diners, sitting around in carefully chosen "styles" being all alternative and shit. Talking about how to market their band. Hoping to be noticed, to get famous. Even the indy crowd in this town has a marketing veneer lacquered over everything.
No one just living their lives. It's all an agenda. Gotta be someone. Gotta get somewhere. Gotta play the game.
Calgary, Alberta. Schlepping phony Western Canadiana for kicks, but the mean, mean underlying vibe is always there. Vicious millionaires bulldozing soulful establishments and people's livelihoods in favour of clean, cleansed luxury for its clean, cleansed luxury-deserving patrons. A city run by and for young souls. You can throw in a few newly-minted mature souls just to give it that fake "artsy/cultured" thing. Garbage. Trying to lure the people who don't know any better into dropping their money on overpriced drinks and food, clothing and accessories. Paying for fake experiences with fake fiat currency.
The downtown mall has kicked all the real stores out in favour of luxurification plans handed down by Torontonian property management overlords.
Brooks Brothers is coming to town! How thrilling.
Spaces are empty all over town. All over the country. All over the world. Bulldozed livelihoods. Lost our lease. Lost our lease. We're closing shop. And in a way, the independents are relieved. Because trying to keep your head above water in this increasingly corporatized climate is bloody exhausting. They tighten the vice little by little. Priced out. Squeezed out. And when the death of the business finally comes, it's accepted with a sigh.
And so I wait for the bulldozer to run out of gas. Or to at least take a fucking coffee break.
I can see it starting. "Luxury" stores aren't lining up to fill those empty spaces. The spots are sitting empty. Stalled monster condo projects all over town. Massive, gaping holes left in the ground with fences all around. They got ahead of themselves, trying to build on phony foundations.
And here I sit. I'm not sure what things are going to look like or if there will ever be a place I can stand being in again.
Art of My Heart is dead. And every fucking brainless weasel in this town can go to hell.
Art of My Heart's new, ground floor location
Original bead jewellery designs
My sweet little beading desk in the backroom
(Yes, I was a wee bit disgusted with the Pluto in Capricorn hyper-gentrification steamroller at the time, and I'm still disgusted with it today. Today, at the end of the Pluto in Capricorn transit, we have another monster wave of business closures, as small businesses are deemed "non-essential" by powerful people who don't need to work all that much for a living and have not missed a paycheque since this orchestrated madness began.
All that said, the two-and-a-half years I spent at Art of My Heart provided a lot of joy in my life, and I'm ever-grateful.)