Awake or asleep, physically or only in spirit, we all have moments to wander. It may be that we do so with good reason, or without any sense of reason at all, but the roads we take can twist and turn unexpectedly. What we do with these surprises can be the crux of real meaning in our lives. Or it can lead onward, ever onward, the mystery never seeming to abate and its clews unravel intelligibly before us…
That magical time known as the Golden Hour seems to give everything, not just color, an extra fillip of beauty. Colors do, indeed, become warmer and more saturated when the sun is at such a low angle to the horizon as its place near dawn and dusk, but there is so much more to the mystical powers of those fleeting moments that it is a great treasure to be still in them and let the wonder fill me. At such times I feel more connected to nature and everything around me seems more in tune, better adjusted, and I feel that I am, too.
How can the mere angle of the sun turn a scrubby lawn into finely cut velvet? The touch of gilt on the scene makes every ounce of it seem that much more precious and valuable. The bejeweled day, in turn, makes the simplest action in it take on significance it never had before: the chattering of birds in the trees becomes a miniature angelic choir; the dipping of oars in the water turns from a quiet splashing to the whispering of poetry; the evening breeze that gently stirs shore grass becomes a delicate communiqué from the harmonic internal logic of the universe, and I am at one with it all. As the golden hour ripples through my environs and begins to permeate me, I almost feel as if I am gliding along their silky way right in sync with the rowboats nearby, waving fluidly as the grasses on the verge, tipping my wings with the evening birds to slide onto the branches of the trees. I am at peace with the world, and the world, with me. That is golden indeed.
There was a whopper of a rainstorm in Dallas recently. We were at our friends’ home, enjoying a little birthday party, and heard a few low growls of thunder in pauses between the chatting and laughter but had no great confidence rain would follow. It’s been overcast or cloudy often enough lately without granting so much of the hoped-for watering as it seems to promise, so we never take it as a given that we’ll be watered nicely. Not, in this instance at least, until the front door smashed open under the force of sideways gales and blasts of firehose rain. Bashed open once, and closed; then, a second time. And latched tight; the neighborhood was pelted well and truly until just a little before we left for home.
At home, it appears, no rain had come at all. Our gardens and spirits remained thirsty. I’m quite certain that a coastal-born person of my Washington upbringing and Scandinavian roots is a little more water-conscious, if not obsessed, than average. But the hints of rain that do arrive here, whether in sky-splitting gouts that last but an afternoon or in a steady series of lightly sprinkling days as we are sometimes blessed to see, are a fairly universally admired gift. And I find that north Texas is hardly alone in this.
The traveling we did this summer in Europe had very few rainy days among the many sun-soaked ones, and while we neither regretted the warmth and light of the sunshine nor bemoaned the drizzling times, we saw plenty of people in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Port Angeles and Seattle who relished their rain-baths and their waterfront or fountain-side relaxation every bit as much as we did. Even the swans, geese, ducks and waterfowl seemed all the more pleased with their daily peregrinations on the days of and after the rains.
I think that there might be in all of us a certain kind of thirst that mere water only reinforces and reminds us is different from the sense of desire and hope that can fill our spirits. River or fountain, a strong and cleansing rain, ocean or streaming tears of joy, the only water that can quite slake our longing for wholeness and growth and hope is the remembrance that we are primarily made of water ourselves, and as such, will always seek a way to the well or the shore that reassures us we belong.
Coming up empty? Never! Well, okay: sometimes. That’s closer to the truth. I’ve managed to put up three years’ worth of daily blog posts thus far without missing too many beats, but do I have the occasional day of blanking on what I think would be of interest for me to write about, draw or photograph, and post. Outright brilliance would be a stretch for me on the best of days, and on many, it’s just good old showing-up-and-working that gets the job done.
Pretty much the way life works everywhere, isn’t it.
I get up and brush my teeth and take a shower and get dressed, and there’s no guarantee I’ll look less like a goofy, sleepy person than I did a half hour earlier. Some days, it’s flat-out worse, especially if I have to be up before about 9:30 in the morning. But I’m still me. I’m still going on to have a day, to do my writing and picture-making, do my household tasks, go to events, whatever the calendar demands. I’m always planning to have a really good day, if at all possible.
So whatever the agenda, I choose to give it my best, pretend (if I have to) that all is swell in the world, and see if I can’t do something myself to make it as good a day as I’m wanting. We can’t all be pretty all of the time, so I like to let my imagination offer me some fun alternatives to perfection and prettiness, and then the day has a better chance of hitting the happy mark.
I do, and learn, new stuff all the time. I wish it’d stick with me! It seems my approach to learning is very much of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back variety, or possibly, one forward, two back, if I’m to be entirely truthful. So much seems like water flowing through a sieve in this ol’ brain of mine.
That is one of the prime forces that made me such an inveterate list-aholic. I fear that if I don’t have lists for every occasion and purpose, and lists of what those lists are, I am doomed to lose whatever motes of mindfulness I have collected in the course of my journeys. Not that lists aren’t perfectly able to be misplaced, forgotten and misinterpreted themselves.
There is probably no perfect solution to this problem. I end up thinking about my lists almost more than about the contents of them or what I might do with said contents, most especially avoiding the thought that if I spent the list-composing and writing time on simply doing what I am making notes to remind me to do, I might not even need the lists. Heresy.
What can I say. I am a pessimist: I don’t think I’ll ever find enough time in a day to get all that I want done accomplished. I am an optimist, too: I think that if I hold something so dearly important as to document its urgency on a list, surely I will someday get it done. Obviously, I am just a good old-fashioned, self-deluded fool. But I have a whole list of reasons that that’s okay and will still get me to my goals. Eventually.
It’s so much easier to hide behind convention and other convenient facades than to let our true selves be seen and known. Don’t we almost always prefer that sense of safe anonymity or at least ‘appropriateness’—however tenuous or specious it may be—to taking the chance that in our own skins we might not measure up to the occasion or to the expectations of others?
It is, of course, a foolish conceit. One can rarely cozen anyone else, let alone oneself, by such a means. No matter how hard I may try to appear in the guise of what I think will qualify me for the In Group or make me richer-thinner-prettier or smarter than I really am, if it’s all show, the mask will like any faulty exterior prove too thin to cover my realities. It has always been so, and yet I am far from alone in continuing these futile attempts. I do believe that constant practice can transform us into a nearer semblance to the disguise, but that can work for ill as well as good.
Probably wiser is to recognize that the urge is age-old; that insecurity and an assumption that others will find me inadequate in my natural state are neither new problems nor absolutely decisive. The masks of the past remain, both in those symbolic and ceremonial concrete forms and in the records of our history books and art, to amuse, bemuse or warn us, if we will pay attention. And a close enough, thoughtful enough reading will remind any of us that no mask covers the truth forever—and yet, all the same, that we as a species continue (however astoundingly) to survive. Perhaps unmasking isn’t entirely as dangerous as any of us have feared.
I spent enough years acting the part of a brave, socially mature person, one who was more comfortable hosting a gathering, letting others see my art and writing, lecturing, teaching and doing so many other things that in truth absolutely terrified me to tearful agony behind the scenes that it turns out I am capable of doing all of those things after all. I still fuss and worry, yes, but nothing like the self-flaying horrors that I used to suffer just to get through what were apparently no-big-deal occurrences for most other people, and now I can experience them with fair equanimity. Funny how, when you’ve spent your whole remembered life in the grip of a belief that every second was one degree away from total disaster and death, any tiny bit less becomes magically huge.
And each of those instances becomes a step toward understanding that I have perhaps begun to grow into my mask of wishful improvement and become more like it underneath. Or better yet, that it never did matter as much as I feared, this different reality behind the convention. Best of all, I find that the more I let people see me as I really am, the more kindly they seem to look on me, and in turn, I begin to think the real me is perhaps pretty likable, respectable. Even lovable. Who knew.
Here’s the thing about flamingos: they’re living contradictions. They’re some of the least altered descendants of the dinosaurs, yet in the twentieth century they became icons of modernism in art and design in large part for the very strangeness that ties them so closely to their ancestors. In the span of that surge of popularity, they also had both the high-cultural cachet of favored subjects in Art Deco’s glamorous creations and the lowbrow delights of trailer park plastic lawn decorations. The elegant long necks, graceful broad wings, and that magical coral hue of their plankton-painted plumage are counterbalanced by rather gawky squawking voices and oh, my, what an unattractive smell.
Here’s another thing: we human-types tend to have a certain ambivalence about many things in our lives and appreciate that the world is far from simple. So it’s not surprising that many of us should find flamingos fairly intriguing and compelling. They’re kind of weird. They’re sort of good metaphorical stand-ins for us.
I’m fond of and amazed by birds. I’m particularly drawn to raptors and songbirds, but truth be told, I wasn’t so taken by flamingos, and when I got to spend a tiny bit of quality time in their presence in zoos or parks, I was amused by their seeming clumsiness and more than a little taken aback by their stink and noise. Guess you won’t be surprised, then, to know that when I had a little time to reflect on it–well, it was my own reflection I saw. I’m still thankful I’m not an actual flamingo, since people mostly don’t laugh openly at my foibles when in my presence, and hardly ever tell me to my face that I’m stinky. All the same, having that little picture stored in my mind is useful. I may still be slightly ridiculous, in my stumbling, silly way and with my imperfect voice and showy but eccentric ways, but I guess if flamingos can be such wonderful and iconic beings with all of their oddities, why shouldn’t I, too? Flawed and goofy I may be, but I’m an amazing creature of my own kind.
Magic happens whether supernatural beings or prestidigitators are present in the event or not. Marvels of every kind are present in the everyday and the ordinary if we only know where to look and how to see. Who are we, mere mortals, to question the existence of the miraculous or to doubt that it plays a role in the large and the small parts of our lives or that we, in turn, play our parts in it?Why should we always second-guess the truth of the impossible, I wonder? Isn’t that notion so perfectly strange that it absolutely must be correct? How can we accept our own reality and yet fail to acknowledge the beauty and oddity and outrageous loveliness of all Otherness? Really, how?When night falls, sometimes we sleep; when we sleep, we may well dream. Nothing requires it, though, or guarantees that this is the natural sequence, the absolute pattern of things. No more do we know for certain that day brings wakefulness or waking, sanity.All I can say for certain is that reality is far broader and deeper than I in my small, individual way can ever quite hope to comprehend–and probably than I would want to know, even if I could. It’s the mystery, the unknown and unknowable that makes life so piquant and our human places in it so poignant, after all. If it weren’t for the puzzles and conundrums and outlandishness that fill the spaces between the usual and expected bits of life, what glints of peculiar joy would decorate our dreams?
Go on now, let me go back to sleep.
Now that everyone seems to have the technology to make cheap watches (which I must designate in my heart mere instruments for marking time, not timepieces), I get to wondering whether the beauty of true clockworks will always be preserved or will only serve as curiosities and fodder for art. That precision we take so nonchalantly to be ours is a museum of measurement and the poetry of a mechanism we should keenly regret to lose if we value something more than the rigid math of time, the seamless meeting of Doing and Deadline.