Monday, January 16, 2017

Word of the Week - 150

D&G 2014.
Word of the Week:  SUNSHINE

While I often label color as a nutrient, I know beyond doubt that sunshine actually is.  A vitamin D deficiency smartens one up rather quickly to the fact that a human body needs the light of the sun.  In my world that leaves color the task of being sunshine for the spirit.

It is not alone in its assignment, for I corral it with its fellows, including beauty by multiple definitions, swiftly running rivers, things that smell wonderful, the love of and for friends and family, silliness, kindness, insight and intelligence, artfully arranged words.   Oh, such a long list.  For the spirit to be underfed requires cataclysm of epic proportions.

I have long believed that any garment ought to have pockets and to be without them is a failure of aesthetics and duty.  In those pockets one can keep and transport the necessary charms, talismans, symbols of spiritual sunshine, available like smelling salts when weariness gains the upper hand.

We have never truly known where the next step of our journey will take us.  That we don't know today only suggests there may be additional reasons for gathering to us more closely that which brightens and enlivens, that which lifts our hearts.  Vitality fuels our imaginations, empowers and strengthens.  The world needs us, needs our spirits, inspired, nourished, hopeful and strong.   The world needs, we need, our sunshine. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Word of the Week - 149

Page header and cover of a French ledger received for Christmas.  Today is Saint Agathon's Day.
Word of the Week:  JANUARY

I believe January is one of those hybrids, both month and state of mind.  As I age, I find that I am happier with more hours of sunlight, more warmth.  While I expect that, come August, I will be displeased with temperatures above 105, there is more day to the days.  Winter nights, relieved by strings of cheery, glowing bulbs, are bearable.  Without them, a sense of isolation creeps in.  Shivering, along with watery gray skies, aggravates a nature already listing toward occasional melancholy.  And all of this, mind you, takes place in Southern California, not North Dakota or even Virginia where winter doesn't kid around.  And, may I add, how much I have always loved the rain.  Just a bit less so when it falls in January.

January can feel like a primitive rope bridge strung between the sweetness, the natural or induced jollity of Christmas and the once-celebrated heart-filled red joy of Valentine's Day.  Thank you, Dr. King, for giving us a holiday mid-month to release some of the chilly tension.

As I see each day as the chance for a new beginning, the New Year holds no particular promise of transformation to come.  December brings a unique shine, associated with stars and glitter, colorful packaging, specific music, greetings exchanged, good wishes, peace on earth.  January is the absence of festivity, all possible childlike anticipations too far away to give comfort.  If one could find a way to spread the holidayness of December a bit thinner, to stretch it beyond the first of the year rather than using it up in what feels like a week or even just the one day, I believe winter would lose some of its sting.  One would feel less bereft.  No doubt you are thinking that to make the celebration of December holidays a more lengthy endeavor would dilute them.  I disagree.  January needs a little Christmas or its own special not-Christmas, its own bit of happy gleam to chase the deepened shadows, the damp, the ice.

I am not glum as I sit typing in my red sweater having spritzed cautiously frugal dots of Chanel #5 so the fragrance wafts from wrists to stuffy nose, singing to the senses.  Without inflated expectations of Christmas, I no longer experience the droop that used to follow.  Still, January at best is a wet blanket, at worst a bleak expanse.  No, it is not a particularly rational response to a collection of days that mean no harm but one's response to stimuli is rarely rational.  Keep the fires burning, hibernate if that helps pass the time, fill the hours with laughter and all that feeds the senses.  Press on.  Always know that something wonderful IS just around the corner.  Hello, February.  Will you be my winter Valentine?

Monday, January 9, 2017

A slight postponement

Word of the Week will appear on Tuesday.  I have a cold, my wits have fled, I am going to take a nap.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Word of the Week - 148

Illustration by M. Kelly
Word(s) of the Week:  WHY NOT FICTION?

On Christmas Eve, with very little time, I tried to write a follow-up story with the characters introduced at Halloween of 2015.  I had pleasing photos for illustration, showing dolls by artist Sandy Mastroni which had inspired the original piece.  I had a blurry idea of the shape I wanted the story to take, elements I wanted to include.  After a couple hours it was as weighty as an anchor and all I could do was put it aside until either the story or I managed to lighten up.  Still waiting.

On FB today, a friend mentioned the challenge of naming characters in fiction, with useful suggestions added to the comment thread, reminding me I have novel-length work just sitting there.  That seems to leave me adding Fiction Reworking to my list of Stuff I Would Like to Turn Into Habit.  I've discussed the Chair Yoga, plus working with hand weights, plus Art Every Day or So Help Me.  Then there's the fact of a daily nap not being an option but a necessity.  All this may require me to become more serious about time, about where the boundaries are.  Seeing things blocked out, in my planner, for instance, is not my norm.  As with time generally, I tolerate, actually welcome, its fluid aspects as I experience them.  But I doubt that sort of relationship gets books written.

So.  There IS no reason why there can't be fiction.  I assume if there can be little fiction, there might be big fiction.  What was unthinkable yesterday becomes a possibility today.  The universe as I have come to know it is fluent in encouragement.  It rubs its galactic palms together at the thought of surprising us with our own most deeply held desires, seeming to wander, whistling, through the neighborhood as we write an episode here, a chapter there, thinking of them as short-short stories.  As we humans tend to be greater than the sum of our parts, perhaps the same is true of building a novel using the model of the Add-A-Pearl necklace.

It is a daunting word, novel.  For now, I may speak of my Add-A-Pearl necklace.  We will know what I mean.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Word of the Week - 147

Saint Francis of Assisi by Sassetta.
Word(s) of the Week:  SAINT FRANCIS

I first heard this prayer in meetings of 12-step programs.  Among the readings that were part of every meeting, this was occasionally chosen in place of words from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Its message has resonated for me since then, more than 30 years.  Whether or not you subscribe to the form, I feel it speaks eloquently of this season, of all seasons.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Encore: The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas

Last year's two-part Christmas story, revisited in one place.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas

Vintage Christmas ephemera.
Episode One

"The trappings of Christmas must be perfectly executed," Ambulancia declared to all within earshot, which included passers-by who looked up, startled, and quickened their steps.  "I know perfection when I see it.  I just can't say ahead of time what it will look like."  This bit of last-minute holiday drama concerned traditional crackers presented to each guest atop their dinner plate at the Christmas table.  While her mother suggested the manufacturer's decorations were quite festive and would disappoint no one, Ambulancia, joined in protest by her sister Sireena, insisted on what she referred to as "tarting them up" with trimmings that would render them extravagant works of art.  Nothing less would do.

Once again, tulle became a material of choice, along with double-faced satin ribbons, gold German Dresden trims and ornaments, Victorian scrap images, sequins, glitter, cotton batting fruit and birds and additional bits of scissored crepe paper.  Fortunately, the girls always created in their room, their atelier as they called it, so the already tidy parlor with its slightly strange but mostly wondrous tree would remain undisturbed.

As had been the case at Thanksgiving, Ellington and Henri's parents found it necessary to be "away" at Christmas, some muttered explanation about a distant, aging and slightly gaga relative or some precarious businss assignation in a wintery, remote locale which, they were sure, would cause the boys hardship.  It was no hardship at all to stay over with their best friends for the entire vacation. They rolled up their sleeves and tested the glue guns for readiness.

Though it may have seemed to the untrained eye that the sisters procrastinated, plunging into last-minute flurries of holiday preparations in general, that was not the actual truth.  They had made all their gifts weeks ago, wrapped them, helped decorate the house, baked, gone to the movies twice with the brothers and eaten lunch in a downtown coffee shop.  They were not idle nor forgetful.  it was simply that when Ambulancia opened the box of Christmas crackers, she felt her heart sink just a bit and could not bear to think of that happening to their guests.  "Presentation," she exclaimed.  "Delight the eye, create anticipation.  Much of Christmas is anticipation.  We will not disappoint."

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas, part 2

As long as there was someone at home, the girls insisted that any and all Christmas lights be turned on regardless of the time of day.  So it was that they crafted beneath the softened glow of a treasured old Santa, putting finishing touches on the now highly adorned crackers for tomorrow's table.

With one of her favorite holiday magazines beside her, should she need inspiration, Ambulancia sniggered and snorted at the photo of an impossibly lavish cracker, saying in her poshest voice, "Oh, Ree, did we include the Faberge eggs in the crackers this year?  I may have forgotten them.   We'll need to start over."  Her sister answered, "Yep.  Forgot them.  I guess they'll wait for next year."  Snigger, snort, heh heh.  "A witty motto, plastic charm and, my favorite, the paper hat, will have to do.  I love when we all have on our hats.  Nobody thinks they're too silly to wear.  We know the best sports, don't we?"
NOT the sisters' Christmas cracker.
"Will you ask our Dad if he's ready to take us to deliver presents?" the older sister asked Ellington.  Unlike the girls method of, no other word for it, bellowing from room to room, the Garrick brother went and found Mr. Charpentier in his den and asked if he was ready to drive them around to exchange gifts with their friends.  "Yes!" he told him.  "Yes.  And then a tour of the neighborhood lights after, how does that sound?"

"I feel a bit selfish," he told Ellington and Henri, who had joined them, "having the company of you guys while your parents have to be off in the Black Hole of Calcutta or some dismal place without you at Christmas.  Lucky us, I wouldn't trade."  His genuine kindness, his enthusiasm for having the fellows to balance all the female influences on every matter, always made the brothers feel they were as good as at home.

Turning off the lighted decorations, Mrs. Charpentier rounded up all the siblings, each carrying a small, paper-handled bag of presents to be dropped off.  The first year their father asked if they needed a ride to their friends' houses, the girls clapped with delight.  They also jumped, just a bit, and may have let out a shriek.  Christmas was so much fun.

With the mysterious packages, some of which were exceedingly lumpy, patterned paper wrapped around the contents like a second skin, exchanged, following rather extended chats on front porches and some familiarly shrill exclamations, all were back in the car.   It was officially Christmas eve, the sun had set and lighted trees filled front windows on every block.  Following their tradition, they stopped to get hamburgers to eat en route while they rode through the evening, visiting their favorite neighborhoods, the ice cream family's mansion lit up brighter than a Hollywood premier, the towering deodar trees beneath which all cars drove with headlights off.

"I remember the first time I was able to fall asleep on Christmas eve," Mrs. Charpentier said.  "I was so disappointed when I woke up.  I felt as though I'd lost Christmas, I'd lost the child I had been.  But I was wrong.  She's still here," she laughed.  "You girls and your father helped rescue her from having to be too grown up."  She blew kisses toward them all.  "Thank you," she said.

"Being able to fall asleep when it's Christmas," Sireena said, "I can't even imagine.  How awful that must have been for you."  Her mother nodded.

As they wound their way home, the children examined the presents they'd been given and thought of what they would do before going to bed as late as possible.  One thing they loved to do and not just on Christmas eve was lie on the floor under the tree in the darkened room and look up through the branches at the lights and they way they were reflected by ornaments and tinsel.  It seemed like a wishing place, a fairy place of pine scent and candles.  There would be carols playing softly and everyone knew, not just believed but knew, that the best things were entirely possible.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Word of the Week - 146

From our grandparents one Christmas, my siblings and I each received a Steiff puppet: Jocko, Gaty and Witty.
Word(s) of the Week:  SISTER AND BROTHER

I use the word Christmas rather than holidays for it was Christmas that my family celebrated.  It is our tradition.  It is the past to which I return this time every year.  It is my personal version of the Twilight Zone where I know it will be the mid-1950s, where my sister will be around five or six years old, my brother around eight or nine and I somewhere between 10 and 12.  When our mother isn't looking, we will make compressed balls of the tinsel and toss them at the tree, rather than draping it strand by strand as she  instructed.  When the lights are on, we will lie on the floor with out heads beneath the branches, and let our wishing minds carry us away.

The three of us have spoken as adults of the brief interlude, perhaps only one year or at the most two, when our mother sought the short-cut of what we called the Ready-Pack Christmas stocking.  A dime store standard of scratchy red mesh with a festive, stapled image atop a bag of, well, stuff.  We were used to receiving one of our father's socks with a splendid orange in the toe and a handful of personally selected treasures to open in the middle of the wakeful night.  We fussed terribly about the indignity of it, though the Ready-Pack gave us a lasting tradition:  the Chinese finger trap, ever after one of Santa's constants.
The Chinese finger trap found its way into the Novelty Items Hall of Fame.
They say that the act of recalling an event changes our memory of it.  Physics may one day prove that remembering can alter the event itself.  What I know is that, among all the joys that Christmas continues to bring to my life, the most enduring times, the ones etched most deeply into my heart, my very core, are the ones when Laurie, Mike and I were young together, almost swallowed whole like Jonah by the impossible magic of those days.