“Your father… favoured a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say your father favoured it – it’s really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course.” —J. K. Rowling
This is not a Potter-post, but it is a post about Iris Apfel and, to begin with, the wisdom of the idea that “the wand chooses the wizard.” I heard it proposed in person (by a psychologist no less) that we humans do not choose the things that grip us. Our passions, even our dreams, our interests: they have us, they are holding onto us and not exactly the other way around. And when I heard this I thought, what a marvelous, fascinating, wonderful idea! What’s more, I think that it’s most probably true. There are many other places that this thought appears, I’ve found. I was reminded of what Elizabeth Gilbert expresses in her excellent book, Big Magic, and that is that creative ideas are themselves looking for someone to collaborate with, and of their own accord often proceed to come and find us (she even occasionally showers, shaves her legs, and dresses up extra presentably specifically in an attempt to attract more of them to herself when she is writing).
Two interesting stories to that effect (one from Gilbert’s book, and one that I read about fairly recently):
In Big Magic, Gilbert writes about how Tom Waits sometimes would experience musical concepts coming to him while he was out driving. Once, he replied to a song which came to call at just such an obviously-inopportune moment, saying, “Go bother someone else. Go bother Leonard Cohen!” No hard feelings, of course, Gilbert relays. If a song is “serious about being born,” Waits believes, it will return when its potential to do so is more probable.
I love that story.
Malvina Reynolds had a slightly different response when the song Little Boxes came to her behind the wheel of a vehicle (albeit, she had the benefit of a passenger). Apparently, she and her husband were driving to a meeting when it happened. “As she drove through Daly City, she said, “Bud, take the wheel. I feel a song coming on.” And so it was that she wrote down Little Boxes as it came to her speeding down the road (thanks to this song, Malvina was even credited for the addition of the term “ticky tacky” in the Oxford English Dictionary—-pretty neat).
In his book, Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks writes, “It seems to me that most of our musical imagery is not voluntarily commanded or summoned but comes to us apparently spontaneously. Sometimes it just pops into the mind.” And it seems to me that it’s not just ideas, but circumstances and opportunities that behave in this manner—-such as in the adage, when the student is ready the teacher appears. This has happened to me countless times, often in the form of an article or a book at a wonderfully opportune moment but sometimes in the form of an actual person: a real living-and-breathing-teacher. At times like those, it is easy to feel that it truly is such a wonderful world. Oliver Sacks (a genuinely interesting and thoughtful writer, I must say) addresses intentionality in creative work, as does Gilbert. There is work, to be sure, there is intentionality, and there are lots of difficult hours of practicing and striving uphill—-long periods of apparent nothingness too—-but there is also the phenomenon of feeling drawn to something, fascinations (do you feel like you choose what fascinates you, or have they chosen you?), inspiration, intuition, and the like.
But now, back to Iris Apfel. The documentary (simply titled Iris) was a quiet, almost sensible joy to watch. Iris is a long-standing fashion icon. Her massive private collections of clothing, accessories and art pieces from across the globe have been showcased in wildly popular art exhibitions, and her expertise is eagerly sought in such areas. Much of what could easily be called her ‘passion’ in life seems to have had its sights set on her from the start: opportunities came to her, and she found that sometimes things just “had her name on them.” It was a good watch, and I’d recommend it as long as slow and quirky are acceptable qualities in a feature. For my own part, I liked the slowness and the quirkiness. I had never before heard of Iris Apfel and I found that I liked her just about instantly. She would want readers to know that now, at the age of 97, she is still alive, active in her (beautiful) métier and very, very well-dressed.
We also have a book here at Vaughan Public that I would like to read one day called Accidental Icon: Musings of A Geriatric Starlet, written by Iris Apfel herself.
While I haven’t (yet) had the pleasure of taking in any more than the book’s title, the idea that she thinks of herself as an accidental icon makes her story all the more splendid: without a deliberate attempt to infiltrate anything, but certainly with an open heart as it was happening, the art and fashion world (her ‘wand’) found and embraced her—-and what a marvelous choice it made!