Privilege Blog

Talismans, Pentagrams, Longitudes, Latitudes

Do you find that odd little things can make your history clearer all at once?

Last week I read Tana French’s latest mystery, The Secret Place. I love her stuff. This takes place at an exclusive girl’s school outside of Dublin, and derives no small part of its color from the magical rites of teenagers. As I read, the High WASP in me spoke severely, “Over the top!” The prose seemed too purple, the supernatural happenings too preposterous.

And then I remembered actually being a teen and pre-teen. Took an effort, almost a quantum leap to put myself back in that time. Those years when pretend was as real as real. I went through puberty feeling magic, as though my life was being read out loud to me by James Earl Jones, portentous, deep. I was almost certainly a little weird – but maybe we all are at that age?

Recently I also realized that by coincidence, or vibration, two readers of this blog run small businesses so reflective of my particular young oddities, I want to cry “Sorcery!” or, “The universe is speaking!”  Of course, High WASPs don’t say that in public.

On the other hand, we’ll talk jewelry any day of the week. This is from our friend, Patsy. Ah, Cape Cod.

Patsy Kane Navigator Horizon Bracelet

We were all 11 going on 12, once. I spent that summer in sailing camp at the Wianno Yacht Club. I don’t know why it seemed so magical.

Maybe the independence of small boats and medium-sized kids helming them without adults? The snack bar with hamburgers ours for a signature? The surprise of small islands? The rumble of my parents’ slowly-failing marriage? Or maybe my own tan arms and white blonde hair? Had I know then how beautiful we are at that age, would anything have been different?

No, maybe it was Capsizing Day. We learned to escape after surfacing under a smothering sail. I remember the light in between the sea’s surface and the white sheet, and breathing to remain calm. I could have used that lesson better, later.

In any case, Patsy Kane lives and works in Marblehead, Massachusetts. She sails, for real, and makes jewelry that authentically reflects the lifestyle. Some of you may be familiar with Kiel James Patrick, and while I wish the young man all success in his endeavors, his marketing imagery presents a set of youth who glow differently than I remember. I don’t need someone else to manufacture magic – it comes from my own memories.  Patsy’s Navigator bracelet, engraved with coordinates of one’s choice, locate one’s time and space so specifically.

Unsurprisingly, she also does casual pearls.

On the other end of the talismanic spectrum, we find Pamela Gene Daley, and the business she runs with her husband, Mark Defrates.


They specialize in symbols. Above, a pentagram, with, you know, a diamond. Pamela and Mark offer other symbols too. Dragons, Egyptian cats, Celtic crosses, more.

A talisman should be specific and derived from something you lived. For me it could in fact be a pentagram. Imagine, if you can spare a minute, a standard high school gym, up in the hills above San Francisco Bay’s hot dry eastern side. Two teenage girls on the yellow wood floor dancing badly to a group called Pentangle. Probably wearing cotton skirts, and footless tights. Believing all the while that they were calling powers. It’s silly, poignant, and, although I know full well what a ninny I was, a little awe-inspiring. That time in our lives, we transition in ways that no one can yet fully explain. So teen drama maybe enacts stronger forces, like pretty shadow puppets.

When I was young, life seemed linear. First this happened, then this next thing, then something else. Each event took so much consciousness to process, I lived it in fragments.

It still takes a lot, to be a person, But now I suspect that some of who we feel ourselves to be can be simply told. For me, in the shift from sailboats off Wianno to witchcraft in California. For you, something else. We are our transitions, but we only know ourselves when we’re still. Maybe that’s the point of talismans, to change times of transition into something you can hold between finger and thumb.



The Amazon link is affiliate. No compensation has been received from Patsy or Pamela. In fact I suspect this post comes as somewhat of a surprise to both of them.


45 Responses

  1. It comes as a total, wonderful, beautifully written surprise!

    Many, many thanks!

    And now off to see Pamela’s gorgeous work……

  2. I had the same response to Tana French’s book, coming to it eagerly after having read all her earlier stuff, but at first wondering about the seemingly supernatural goings-on. Convinced gradually, as you were (helped along the way by her fabulous writing — there are always sentences of hers I have to stop and copy!).
    Your writing here is wonderful as well, so evocative of those early years of adolescence. And the sailing. My g-daughter took a sailing class when she stayed with us this summer — by the second week, she and a similarly aged child were sailing their little Optis over to a nearby island, the coach boat nearby, of course, but still, what magic that might incite in an almost 6-year-old’s spirit. Sailing’s not part of my background at all, except that we watched my son revel in his classes a few summers, but the nautical and the magical go together very convincingly with youth somehow. . . Maundering and wittering now, better go, bye-bye. . . .

  3. Your writing here is perfect Lisa. I am now trying to work out what my talisman would be…

    (Also I worked at a an American summer camp as a teen, and there was something so unbelievable magical about it. It’s a tradition we miss out on over here.)

  4. I really like French’s work. I always figure out the mystery well before the end of the book, but I never care, because I feel like it’s more about how she tells the story.

    The Secret Place is on my to-be-read list.

    1. @Tragic Sandwich, I agree, it almost feels like the mystery is besides the point. Far less important than the characters and their relationships, but still vital to the structure of the books.

  5. I love everything you write on this blog, but have to admit that my favorite posts are those in which you reveal the rarefied life you lived as a very young person. While you were at sailing camp, I was at Camp Fire Girls camp in deep East Texas, not learning to sail, but learning to canoe–but with the same capsizing exercise. It is an important memory. Yes, you have provoked memories here and now I need to think about turning points. I think I know what they were. Thank you.

    1. @Susan, You’re welcome, and thank you in return. You may laugh, but I did not even think about privilege, and rarification, as I wrote, being too involved in memories and thoughts about the universal experience of becoming women.

  6. This summer & Fall, driving a young woman whose family doesn’t have a car first to her last high school summer camp & then last weekend to a young adult retreat, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the magic of camp in the transition to adulthood.

    I have a vintage pin/pendant that I suppose might have had symbolic meaning for the artisan, & the piece did speak to me, but it said “I am a silver fox head on a copper body that looks like a genie bottle & I am holding a brass maple leaf.” I’ve since learned that the maple leaf is the signature element in the pieces by the uncle in that jewelry-making family. I’d be curious to ask him if he just threw the elements together out of whimsy or to be unique or if he had some meaning in mind. Anyway, I enjoy wearing it!

  7. I learned to sail as I learned to do many of the skills (?) of my childhood. After my dad sailed with us for a couple of years, we just got sent out in the boat. No life jackets, or sun screen for that matter. The wind blew us down to the end of the lake, and we either figured out how to tack, or we walked home, got the rowboat, and towed home the boat. I was probably 9. Like Susan, I went to Camp Fire Camp, and I can still make a mean beaded bracelet should my life depend upon it, but we all lived like wild children, minimally supervised, all summer long. No one I knew went to summer long camp, and no one ever wanted to.
    No carry around talismans for me, but the mystique of living on the water, and cattails, and really living the seasons…that is with me always. (And although its now a river, rather than a lake, I still live on the water; I don’t think I can ever give that up)

    1. @Ellen, Living like wild children, exactly. We had that too, when I was quite young, atop a meadow that had a Federal easement and no buildings, until it was filled to make way for Interstate 280.

  8. Oh, Lisa, love this post. Thanks for mentioning Tana French’s new book. I have read all three of her others and didn’t finish this one, but perhaps I will try again thanks to your endorsement. The other three I loved.

    1. Thank you! This is most like the one about the couple, and the “animal in the walls” IMO. I did have to keep telling myself she wasn’t just trying to do her version of “Twilight,” and cash in on the Young Adult fiction craze, but eventually her story and characters and place just took over.

  9. Really love the nautical themed jewelry, and love jewelry with special, hidden meanings. And yes, you can wear yellow gold!

  10. Lisa
    what a thoughtful and evocative post. Suddenly I remembered sailing Sabots at summer camp. Then I stopped to pause and consider the mosaic of memory and how odd it is to think of ourselves navigating childhood as if without the right charts. By the way, I saw Pentangle in concert in a little hall in Edinburgh–they were indeed magical.

    1. “how odd it is to think of ourselves navigating childhood as if without the right charts.” Just got goosebumps. I am so happy you saw Pentangle, to be reminded that they were real people, not just the chant of my teen years. Thank you.

  11. Just placed an order for a silver beacon necklace with the coordinates of our house on the Cape. Thinking of the same for the girls, but with the coordinates of the Outer Beach, a place that is so special in all our hearts. Thanks!

    1. Oh hooray! I love your writings and photos of the Cape – always comfort and calm me. And to connect you and Patsy makes me so happy.

    2. @Loretta, Thank you, Loretta! I suspect we have many places in common. You’ll probably understand if I tell you I went to high school at Ursuline.

  12. I learned to sail on SF Bay. It was before I learned to drive. I know what you mean about being alone in a small boat. It was wonderful.

    1. And you learned before driving, as I did. Sailing doesn’t have roads, you just have to work with the wind.

  13. My goodness! Surprise indeed! Thanx so much, Lisa! When we began I never thought we’d be making anything with diamonds but it turns out we have made quite a few! Both Mark and I were fascinated with symbols as children (separately though) but when we started making jewelry we were in Key West so we did lots of Key West-y pieces (conchs and more conchs and conch houses and…….) and then we added art deco pieces. But one summer at a show in Virginia Beach the only things that sold were our symbols and the ghost of Edgar Cayce said: go forth and make symbols and more symbols. So we did and (truly) lived happily ever after. :)(:

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