A Stitch in Time...

As ye Sew, so shall ye Weep…

Greetings my Dear Ones,

I want nothing more than to write about Pleasant Things, about the glorious weather, and my recent trip to Pennsylvania, and the tiny choir of August Insects tuning their slender wings and legs in the grass to see who’s the next winner of “Meadow’s Got Talent,” and how that puts me in mind of how I once played a duet with a Cricket on my fiddle. The Cricket was not actually on my fiddle, you understand.   I was literally “trading fours” with a cricket. (Isn’t language a funny thing?)  We were doing a cool call-and-response relay that I found enchanting.  Perhaps he was just looking for a cheap date. I will never know. I prefer to think it was a Celestial Connection.   But I cannot write about such magic because ….

I AM SCREAMING!!!  

I have just deleted more than forty-five blog ideas I had collected… My computer battery had expired and when I charged it back up, some Word-processing Force of Mischief asked me if I would like to replace the open files that had not been saved before it crashed.  Stupidly, I clicked on something I should NOT have clicked and deleted my entire file of memos and topics that were to help me slack my way through the next six months of blogging. These are the tiny notes I make on a daily basis when customers come in and ask us to make dog beds out of old clothes, and about how two Rights don’t make a Left etc.... Seriously, 30,000 words’ worth of bums, tums, and thighs and the struggles to slip-cover them in today’s hot fashion colors like Barf-Beige.  

“Look on the bright sight, mum,” says Poppy consolingly, “if you had really wanted to write about them, you would have written about them.  They were just some form of security blanket.”

It’s true. Every week I survey the list of possible collected topics and reject them all.  There is always something more pressing or more topical to tackle.  Still, it was comforting to know they were there.  I have suddenly lost all of my “margins,” all of my “slack.”   It’s as unnerving as cutting ten yards of curtains at the finished length instead of leaving enough extra to turn up for the hem.  It’s SHOCKING to the system to think that I could have done so much damage with such a tiny act—such a miniscule misplacement of a digit upon a mouse.   I could chalk it up to Mercury in Retrograde. Or I could just admit I am an idiot where computers are concerned.  Either way, I am seriously tempted to eat the contents of the freezer as a result.  Well, except for the yarn that I stored there against moths—and that fish my son and his buddy Dylan caught two years ago, promising they were going to grill it one day.

I can’t help muttering, as Eddie Izzard does in his stand-up comedy act: “I’ve wiped the file? I’ve wiped ALL the files? I’ve wiped the Internet??? I don’t even have a Modem!!”

Tiny events have BIG consequences. It’s the Truth. Even ignoring tiny things can create much bigger problems.   My dear Mother-in-Law used to make us carry all our beverages through her house on trays. “I’m a lazy housewife,” she used to say. “If you spill your drink, I only have to wipe up a tiny tray, not shampoo an entire carpet.  It’s purely selfish.  I hate cleaning. Just carry everything on a tray.” She would smile in a blithe and airy way and return to playing her piano.  Her house was always spotless because she was “too lazy” to let it get out of hand.  She was a hard-core proponent of the “Stitch in time” philosophy.

 I think about that proverb “a Stitch in time saves Nine…” It’s hard to contemplate what this maxim conveys in today’s world if one does not mend clothing with hand-stitching on a regurlar basis. The 'stitch’ one makes ‘in time' is simply the prompt sewing up of a small hole or tear in a piece of material before it gets larger.  The idea is that if you stitch one stitch today, while the problem is small, you won’t have to do nine times the stitching later. Clearly, this is meant to be an incentive to the lazy, but they were also talking about saving Time. “Yes,” says Prudence to me, “this one has YOU all over it!  You should print this on tea towels and hang them everywhere!”

The 'stitch in time' notion has been current in English for a very long time and is first recorded in Thomas Fuller's Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British, 1732, which I just ordered from an online book seller, while I was procrastinating over this blog. Fuller, who recorded a large number of the early proverbs exhorting the Anglo-Saxon work ethic, wrote an explanatory preamble to this one:

"Because verses are easier got by heart, and stick faster in the memory than prose; and because ordinary people use to be much taken with the clinking of syllables; many of our proverbs are so formed, and very often put into false rhymes; as, a stitch in time, may save nine; many a little will make a mickle. This little artiface, I imagine, was contrived purposely to make the sense abide the longer in the memory, by reason of its oddness and archness."

There is just so much to love about “clinking syllables” and “oddness and archness.”  And few things are as satisfying as doing little things in the Right Timing so that they don’t become much larger messes that overwhelm us.  The shop is filled with examples of these “stitch in time” moments—from the cop who blasts in with her britches torn to the man who needs the lining of his bag replaced before it can no longer hold its contents.  Prudence is constantly saying to myself and others “One must do our best work from the outset. If we don’t have time to do it Right the first time, what makes you think you’ll have time to do it over?”  She is, as usual, irritatingly Correct—hovering over me while I use a thick needle until I ruin the fabric then a thin needle until I ruin the needle.

My Darling Son learned at a young age the importance of doing little things in a timely way to avert larger disasters. Many years ago, when he was an altar boy and his sister and I sang in the choir at our church, I woke him on a Sunday morning in time to get ready for Mass.  I swept back his curtains and noticed two things: the dogs in his bed and the towels on his floor.  “Make sure you let the dogs outside right away and hang up those towels,” I said.  The Boy Whom Words Don’t Teach mumbled incoherently as I left the room.

Fast forward an hour and I am in the car, revving the engine and blowing out my vocal chords, which I should have saved for the descant of the opening hymns, imploring my lazy little Christians to get their arses in the car NOW—we are going to be LATE!  The female child appears soon after, with damp hair in ringlets to her waist.  She has no coat but she is fully clothed and in the car. Success.  I lay on the horn for another five minutes until the male child eventually skitters across the gravel with no socks and shoes (they are tucked under his arm) and hops in the back seat.  Upon closer inspection, I can see that although he is in his Sunday Best, he is completely soaked—his button down shirt is sticking to him like a wet T-shirt contest and his hair is dripping like he has been hosed.  “Why are you WET?” I bark. He just looks out the window and says “I don’t want to talk about it.”  I speed off, taking turns on two wheels, berating and rebuking and chastising for all I am worth, while they stare glumly out the window.  We arrive late to church and sprint to our separate locations.

Afterwards, on the way home, I am feeling calmer.  I apologize for the way I yelled at them. I talk about how I am just as responsible as they are for creating Reverence in the way we treat each other.  Yes, they must Honor Thy Father and Mother, but it’s not just a one-way street.  Parents should honor their children too. The energy softens between us.  I look over at the boy, who is dry now.  There is a long pause.  “So…what happened. Why were you wet?” I ask.  He shrugs, “well, I had to take another shower.”

“ANOTHER?” I ask.

“Yes, a Cold shower.  Poppy used up all the hot water on that long hair of hers. It was awful.”

“Oh no! That stinks.  But why did you need another shower anyway?”

“Well, when I got out of the first shower, which was kinda warm, and I dried off, I smelled something bad and realized I had just wiped dog poop all over me and into my hair.”  From the back seat there is the sudden cackle of a Delighted Sibling.  He glances at her but continues. “Yeah, I was in such a hurry—I wasn’t looking and someone had pooped in the towel and it wasn’t until I was smearing it down my legs that I actually stopped and noticed it.”  The sibling is laughing so hard by this point that she cannot breathe—she is emitting faint honking noises.

“SOMEONE pooped in a towel?” I say in an incredulous tone. “What do you mean SOMEONE?  Did you not let the dogs out like I asked?”

“Yes,” he insists uncomfortably, “I DID let them out.”

“Before or after they pooped on your towel?”

“Before.”

“Besides, how could they have pooped on your towel if you had hung it up?”

“I DID hang it up,” he says.

“Really?” I persist. “We are just on our way home from church, so I know you MUST be telling me the Truth.  Let me get this straight—you DID hang up your towel, AND let the dogs out.  So what you are asking me to believe is that Today, of all days, those Jack Russells decided NOT to go potty outside but to hold their feces until they could get back inside the house and somehow, through the use of pulleys or ladders or balancing on each other’s shoulders, secretly apply their jobbies to your neatly hanging towel??? Do I have this right?”  He starts to smirk.  I can’t help laughing. Especially since he had his come-uppance already.

“So, having noticed that you had smeared dog jobbies all over you, head to toe, you had no choice but to have another shower, only this time the water was ice cold and you had no way to dry off when you got out?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I could hear you hitting the horn and yelling so I just got dressed and came out to the car.”  By now, his sister is convulsing uncontrollably. She is going to need medical attention if she feels any happier. We ignore her.   I contemplate the perfection of the situation. What are the chances that those animals JUST SO HAPPENED to relieve themselves on the VERY TOWELS I requested he hang up?  It’s nothing short of a Miracle. I stick my head out the window as I drive and shout up to the clouds above—“Thank you Jesus!! Thank you!” For once, the Mother’s have won one. For once.

I pull my head back in the car and address my son, the love of my heart, my Dear Boy.  “You realize that if you had done just ONE, either one, of the little things I had asked that none of this would have happened? Right?”

He nods.  “Yup.”

Sometimes, doing the Right Thing at the Right Time—no matter how small it is—can make all the difference.  Just do the next Right Thing. Then do another. Big disasters have tiny beginnings. Make that first stitch in Time. Truly, it’s the Laziest thing you can do.

Be well, my Darlings! Thanks for your Good Work, wherever you may be. I love you all so much!

Yours aye,

Nancy

It's So Nice To See You!

The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Greetings My Dear Ones!

“Has anyone seen Ernie lately?” I want to know.  For some reason, today of all days, I feel his presence by his absence. We have not seen him for some time though I have not thought about it until now. 

“Well, I know he’s not dead,” says another seamstress matter-of-factly. “I check the obituaries for our customers every morning. He’s probably just lost his driving license or his mind.  One of the two.  But he’s not dead, unless he died somewhere else, out-of-town.”

I am relieved.  He is a difficult customer but one I have grown immensely fond of.  He typically parks his car up on the curb across the street, opens the door without looking, and shuffles through the oncoming traffic with the posture of a question mark, yelling and waving his arms at motorists who are screeching to a halt while peeping their horns at him.  Once in the shop, he collapses on the nearest chair and spends the next ten minutes telling me how there’s No Respect for anything or anyone anymore.  The one-sided harangue lurches between his days in the war (the Korean conflict) and his current prostate difficulties (which he calls Prostrates), with brief breaks to complain about how rotten young people are today.  He is lonely, mad, and scared and I find him totally Adorable.  I make a point of saying “It’s nice to see you again, Ernie!” as he turns to go.  He pauses at this, gives us each a grimace that passes for his breed of smile, and says we are “Respectable Girls.”  Then shuffles back into the oncoming traffic and chaos.

When the sounds of horns and sirens fade, the shop feels quiet.  We start thinking of other customers we have not seen for a while.   Subsequent gossip is inevitable:  “I heard she went out west to see her grandkids…So-and-so said she saw him at the hardware store in a knee brace.  Isn’t she recovering from back surgery?”  Some customers come in weekly with their dry-cleaning and repairs, others we see monthly, seasonally, or only for big lifetime events.  Over the years, some families have come in for so many events—baptisms, bar mitzvahs, weddings, graduations, proms etc… that we come to know quite a few characters.  We have our Favorites and it’s always nice to see them.  Even if a person is brand new to the shop, it’s still nice to see her.  What is a service industry without people to serve?

I don’t interact with any of the customers socially outside of work. I hardly know any of their names.  We are not “friends” in the traditional sense but I am deeply fond of some of them.  It intrigues me how Familiarity breeds the opposite of contempt.  (I wonder where that phrase ever came from?)  Observing an older gentleman barking about how he gets No Respect might be irritating and off-putting at first, especially if he is NOT Rodney Dangerfield and not the least bit funny. Until he does it a hundred times and during those hundred times you see the occasional little sideways shifts of his mask and glimpse an angry boy in there who just wants love.  Then you cannot help but love him.   Some people are just Silk masquerading as Rayon.  It’s nice to see them.

So many people frequent this shop and we are getting so many new customers that we often have trouble recognizing people when they come back to pick up their stuff.  “What is your name?” I have to ask… But special people are memorable.  They stand out.  Some stand out immediately because they are Outrageous or Unreasonable, others stand out for their sparkle, their kindness, their happy auras and easy-going manners and Interesting projects.  Others are quieter, more subdued, and take many visits over many years to gain our affection.  It’s too easy take for granted the ones that are just “normal.”  (Except, you know that we have no such thing as a “Normal” customer!)  Some people are just so special that once they enter our lives, nothing is ever quite the same—they arrive and make such a beautiful impact that Life suddenly becomes funnier, richer, more Zany or Magnificent than we ever imagined.    Most often, they do this just by being who they really are.  Authenticity wins out every time, whether they are cranky-pants or not.  Gradually, they grow and grow in our hearts like trees grow over time in a forest. Then one day, when we suddenly learn via the grapevine that they are gone, the Space they leave behind feels like a desert. It was so nice to see them.

Working with the general public has its challenges.  We definitely meet “All Kinds.” To curb Prudence’s tendency to judge, I have taken to saying to my more devout co-workers “Today I am going to see all our customers as Sacred Children—Manifestations of Divine Wisdom in search of Itself.”   In walks a female version of Divine-Wisdom-in-Search-of-Itself asking me to chop all the pockets out of her clothes because she is worried that they might be adding bulk to her silhouette and making her look fat.  It’s easier to think piously about the three sons who come in to get their old suits let out so they can attend their mother’s funeral, even though one spends his entire fitting looking at his cell phone.  

 All it takes to love someone is Really Paying Attention.   When we do that, we cannot help coming to Know them.  And that song is right—to know is to love.  So is to Serve.  We are bound together by our needs:  I need money and they need to have their pants fit them by Friday.  The love that becomes part of the transaction is optional.  I believe there are no such things as accidental meetings.  People come into our lives for a Reason—even if that reason is only to have us replace all the worn out elastic in their long-johns.  I rarely know how important someone will become to me, when I first meet him or her but I am coming to see that the people I need most in my life are the people who need me in theirs, however peripherally.  Sometimes the best mirror we can look into is the Joy on a happy person’s face.  It’s nice to see ourselves as Useful.  And I mean it when I say, “It’s nice to see you again” when I rediscover a Higher Self through service.  “It’s been a while. Welcome Back!”

Oddly, our most difficult customer of all time is the one none of us as ever seen.  She has been sending her stuff for many years via the satellite partnership with cleaners.  Heaps of clothes arrive weekly in their van with notes pinned to them explaining in terse commands what we are to do.  We have talked to this Mystery Customer over the phone once or twice but she refuses to come into the shop for a proper fitting. When things go wrong, as they often do with such an arrangement, the clothes simply get returned to us with more notes attached.  I try to paint a picture of her in my mind.  Judging from how much we have to hem everything, this is not a tall person.   Nothing else can be ascertained from the wildly diverse collection of colors, trends, fashions, most of which are very high-end.  Working on her clothes makes me nervous.  It’s not just “nice” to see people—sometimes it’s absolutely necessary! I feel about as productive as a chicken trying to hatch a golf ball on these occasions.

From one of her items of clothing I remove a tag that reads: “The Irregularities and variations in the color and texture of this garment are the result of its unique manufacturing and natural dyeing process. They are not flaws.”  Wow! I think, I should wear such a tag! (Seriously, I am thinking of getting these printed!) What a great tag for any one of our customers...  It makes me ponder how often I remember people by their problems instead of their attributes.  As we get to know our clientele more thoroughly, they stop being known as “that lady with the Alfred Dunner pants” or “Mr. Persnickety with the limp buttons issue” and actually acquire names.  When I say “It’s nice to see you,” I must focus on the YOU that is bigger than your issues. 

We take for granted our ability to see people.  And then we don’t. Because of the recent dreadful gun violence in this nation, there are many aching families, torn apart by bullets, who will no longer be seeing dear familiar faces they may have assumed would always be there.  As bystanders viewing this through media coverage, it’s easy to see the numbers as anonymous symptoms, not individual people. Such tragedies remind us how silly it is to take those we love for granted.  When we get to see those we love alive and well, it’s really not just “nice,” it’s the best miracle ever.

Ironically, this blog is helping connect me to a lot of people I wish I could see more regularly, as well as some of you I have never seen, though I wish I could. When I bump into random folks at fiddle concerts or events outside the shop, it is such a delight—“an Extreme Privilege” a friend likes to say—to see someone In Person.  Wherever you are, I am grateful you are here in my world—whether you are the type of customer who says “I’ve been dragging this thing around in my car all month and I never seem to get here. Any chance I could have it done by tomorrow?” or not. I love you more than I first imagined I would.  Please stop by and see us again soon!  It would be ever so Nice To See YOU!!!

Thank you for your Good Work and for making my day!

Yours aye,

Nancy

The Foundation of a Good Wedding

“Mawwaige… Mawwaige is Wot Bwings us Togevah Today…” from “The Princess Bride”

Greetings Dear Ones!

Contrary to popular belief, the foundation of a good wedding is not about the right venue, the perfect dress, coordinating the bridesmaids’ gowns with the napkins, or knowing when to bite your lip and just smile politely at your mother-in-law.  These are just surface elements.  Like Love itself, it is what is underneath it all that really counts. And by that, I mean “Foundation Garments.” Yes. Undies.

As this Summer Wedding season grinds on, it’s becoming unbearably hot and sweaty in the tiny, windowless, unvented dressing room/sauna where our customers go to try on their clothing. The result is an olfactory stew that assaults the senses with a blend of acrid perfumes, perspiration, and someone’s unfortunate inability to digest non-dairy creamers. 

Bridey-locks is here again.  She came in months ago with a gown that was too tight; we let it out. Then she decided to go on a diet and lose thirty pounds; now it’s too loose.  If only I could fill it with porridge and make it Just Right.  She steps into the gown, heaves the front into place and then opens the dressing room door so that she can a. have access to oxygen again, and b. so I can lace her up. As I start threading the loops on her corset-backed gown, there is a faintly bovine smell rising with the steam off her back.  I glance down and see, much to my surprise, a trickle of sweat making its way to the ravine between two ever so lightly furred buttocks.  This bride is Naked!  She is going commando in a Wedding Dress! Prudence chokes and rushes for her smelling salts and hanky.

I have seen this before.  A surprising number of people don’t think they have to wear underwear to a formal fitting. They don’t understand that the primary purpose of wearing underwear is that it serves to keep outer garments from being soiled by absorbing bodily excretions that might stain or damage them.  Other reasons are no less important: to avoid friction, to shape the body, to add warmth, for visual appeal, or for religious reasons. I certainly can understand not wanting to add any extra warmth on a day like today—but seriously Honey, are you really more comfortable having everything stick together down there? Cause it AINT visually appealing!  No wonder certain religions seek to slip-cover the whole business and hide it from sight.

On my own wedding day many years ago, I decided to wear very sexy lace lingerie that promptly installed itself in the most inconvenient of locations.  By the opening hymn, as I made my way steadfastly down the aisle, it was bunching uncomfortably but there was no way to rearrange it through the layers upon layers of fabric, especially in the front of the church, with my back to of all those people.  All through Mass and the Vows and the sign of Peace, it hiked its way North more determinedly than renowned climber Alex Honnold during his ascent on El Capitan.    By the reception it was getting hard to smile without crouching to give myself some slack.  By the end of the night, my legs were fully two inches longer yet I hadn't grown a bit.  What began as an attempt to be visually alluring to my Beloved, resulted in a semi-permanent limp.  

For a very brief period of time, this experience led me to preach the gospel of not wearing underwear on one’s wedding day—something my dearest friend in all the world adhered to with Dire Consequences.  I resolve never to advise this again.   When brides or bridesmaids go naked under their clothes (wait a minute, aren’t we ALL naked under our clothes?)  I ask them politely if they might want to consider wearing some “foundation garments”—like scuba gear and flippers.

As I say, I am still atoning for once advising a very young, innocent, and beautiful bride to skip the sexy underwear and wear only control-top pantyhose with a built-in cotton crotch. I told her she would be so much more comfortable than if her underwear shifted.  Like me, she married in the early nineties, when it was fashionable to disguise brides as enormous lemon meringue pies.  “Everything will be so much easier,” I insisted, “if you skip the panties. You can always change into something pretty later.”   I made all the bridesmaids gowns and matching waistcoats for the groomsmen. I hosted her bridal tea.  I gradually assumed control of the entire wedding, much to the Maid of Honor’s dismay.  Wide-eyed, the poor bride agreed to everything I said. 

On her wedding day, she marched down the aisle wearing nothing but a pair of sheer panty hose underneath twenty yards of chiffon.  I even convinced her to ditch the bra, since her gown was strapless, and use the rubber “cutlets” to fill out the front where her bust was a little scanty.  Bravely, she came—lock-stepping slowly towards the altar to the sounds of “The Prince of Denmark’s March” with rubber boobs and no knickers.  Shall we pause here and just consider the absurdity of some of our matrimonial costuming traditions and what society (and women themselves) imposes on women for this event?  No? We just take it for granted that any of this is normal and sensible and necessary to the plighting of a troth? Ok… Let’s get to the reception then, where it all went ghastly Wrong.

First, we need to back up a little bit and set the scene. The basic ingredients of the plot are thus: The in-laws are god-fearing, law-abiding, genteel Southern Baptists from Kentucky whose expectations of a nuptial celebration include a morning service, followed by some (non-alcoholic) punch and cookies in the church basement where everyone stands around in gorgeous hats and says polite things and then goes home.  That’s it. End of story. Unfortunately, their son is marrying this cute little Yankee harlot from the North whose Catholic relatives are expecting the bash to last three days.  They have planned a rehearsal dinner the night before, the wedding and a big sit-down dinner after, followed by a brunch the next day. There will be approximately forty-seven hours of merriment, decadence, and debauchery amidst rivers of champagne. Have I mentioned that all Catholics are going to hell? According to these in-laws. It’s clear to them at first glance that these other “in-laws” are Outlaws. Nervously, for the sake of their son, they proceed. They witness first-hand the alcohol, the dancing, the loud music.  Mrs. In-Law’s lips get pressed tighter and tighter together until only the thinnest line remains.  To her horror, Mr. In-law is having the time of his life. SINNING. He’s snuck out back to have a cigar and a whisky with the other men.  One of them slaps him on the back and says “too bad ya’ll don’t believe in Confession…you could sin all you want and wipe this all clean on Monday!” He laughs nervously.  Satan, in the form of a voluptuous bridesmaid—the bride’s college roommate—asks him to dance.

The DJ, the bride’s uncle, puts on some swing music and everyone grabs their partners for some jumpin’ and jivin’.  A kilted Scotsman in full Bonnie Prince Charlie attire seizes the bride and begins to dance with her.  Everyone else stops dancing and circles around them to watch. They are fabulous dancers. The music is throbbing and their steps are light and quick as he flings her this way and that.  Everyone is cheering.  Even Mr. and Mrs. In-law can’t help joining the circle to watch their son’s bride trotting around the center of the ring like a frilly circus pony. It’s Magnificent.

UNTIL…..

The Scotsman decides to show off a little more by getting really fancy and flipping the bride up and over his back and catching her in an arial move that SHOULD have been a Fantastic Finale, had it not been for the beading of her gown and his big flashy buttons. They hit a snag faster than a trout line in weeds.  The bride’s front is stuck on his jacket buttons and he is bent over, holding her chest-to-chest beneath him.  She is upside down, legs in the air, with her skirts inverted over both of them.  All we can see is what looks like an enormous up-side-down mushroom whose two high-heeled stalks are kicking madly.  Well, to be honest, we can see a little more than that.  A Lot more. We can see things none of us really want to see. Things we cannot unsee for as long as we live.  There is a momentous pause.  Then a horrible rending sound of fabric tearing as the bride’s gown rips open, stem to stern, along the zipper in the back as the dress gives way. The force of her subsequent fall launches the rubber cutlets into the air in a spectacular arc—which eye-witnesses attest happened in slow motion.  The higher of the two cutlets does a full loop-de-loop and comes to rest right on her new Father-in-law’s foot.  He looks down so suddenly, with such an open-mouthed, shocked expression on his face that his upper plate of dentures falls out on the floor right next to the prosthetic boob.  Not many of us who were there remember what happened after that.  How did we get home? We don’t know. We are stuck, frozen there—teeth by boob—like a slide projector that has jammed on a single frame that has since outlasted that unfortunate marriage.

It’s not just women who need to shore up their foundations. This rule goes both ways. Men, too MUST wear undergarments for the good of their garments and their own protection.  I’m sure you have all heard the unfortunate tale of the young Scottish man whose fuming bride punched him and started a family brawl at their wedding reception in 2017.  When the police finally broke up the melee, and tried to sort out what had started the violence, they discovered that it all began when the Traditionally Attired (sans underpants) groom sat on the bride’s knee and left a small “skid mark” on her gown.  Much blood was shed and seven people were arrested as a result of this young man’s poorly wiped backside!

The moral of this story, for those of you who still require morals, is consistent with most of the Wisdom emanating from the experiences in this shop: Give a thought to what is Inside, Underneath, to what is holding you up and keeping you clean… Remember that it is the BRIDE who is expected to blush, not her guests.  These things are vital to your Success in so many ways.  You never know when your Posterior may become your Posterity.  You might spend hours agonizing over menu-choices and music choices and whether or not to seat Uncle Howard at the kid’s table, all for naught—only to have all the Magic obliterated by the untimely appearance of a hairy ass on the dance floor…  This is more than I can share with the steaming bride in the dressing room today, so I am sharing it with you, Dear Ones.  I know that words alone are not good teachers—at best, they can only validate prior experience—but perhaps the wiser ones among you can glean Something Useful from these tales that leave us all as open-mouthed as a toothless Kentuckian.

Be Well my darlings!  May your linens be clean and your laughs be dirty.  I love you all so much.

Yours aye,

Nancy

In Tuition

“When you reach the end of what you should know, you will be at the beginning of what you should sense.” Kahlil Gibrán

Greetings Dear Ones!

Prudence Thimbleton is cranky. For one thing, the recent heat wave (all two days of it) is hard on her—she hates the sensation of sweat gluing her toes together inside of the thickly-seamed dark brown pantyhose that she wears everywhere, even in shorts. (Gasp! Prudence Thimbleton would NEVER wear shorts!)  Having spent the past ten months grumbling about the cold, we must make good use of this precious and fleeting opportunity to crab about the heat. “It’s not the heat; it’s the humidity,” say the locals, looking like drippy candles after a short walk from the parking area. “The air is so thick and you have to chew it thoroughly before you can swallow it,” observes my visiting Scottish nephew.  I am doing that old New England trick of opening all the windows in the house at night and running box fans in the windows until dawn. Then I seal up the house and pull dark curtains closed against the solar heat and the house has to hold its cool breath until I get home at 5:30 before it can exhale again.

In times like this, nothing makes Prudence’s deodorant expire faster than answering the phone to hear a caller say “Yeah.... Um…” in place of a salutation, before launching into the business at hand: “Yeah…um…I’m...um… a bridesmaid in a um…wedding. Um…How long will it take you to fix a dress for me and um…how much do you charge?”  

“Who ARE you? (With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?) When is the wedding? (Cause if it’s this weekend, I’m afraid you don’t have a paddle for that creek full of excrement you are up) What is the dress like? How many layers? What, exactly, would you like us to do to it? (Is it a tad big? A teeny tinch small? Or does it have enough slack in it to smuggle wombats? And while you’re at it, how long is a piece of string?)

 Poor Prudence is instantly hijacked by one of her “Um” tallies and by the time the customer has hung up (twenty-seven ums later) I cannot remember a word the girl said.  It doesn’t matter. Nothing can be known until we actually see the dress anyway.  Hopefully I told her to just come in as soon as possible for an estimate. I sit back down at my table and listen to Prudence rant about how “People Today” know how to do everything on a cell phone from private banking to global navigation but they have completely forgotten how to use it for its original purpose—which was to communicate politely, profficiently and Properly!

It takes her a while to stop steaming. To tell you the truth, she’s been pretty frazzled since the men moved in with her. Men, you ask? Yes. Men.  I found out we can call on our Spirit Guides for help with problems and these two showed up instantly, took a shine to Prudence and haven’t left yet. Now she can’t leave her dark brown panty-hose to drip dry on the radiator anymore and she is always fretting that one of them might pinch her bottom. They haven’t yet. But they might.

 I like them. They are great fun and jolly useful since they know a lot about the work I am trying to do. They are my blood ancestors: Cesare Zambarano, my great grandfather, a tailor born in Italy who moved to America as a teenage apprentice at the turn of the last century, and a chap called Michael Barton, also a tailor, who was born in Co. Tipperary 1778 and died in Rochdale, Massachusetts in 1872, according to Cousin Mary, our family historian. I’ve sensed their presence for some time now but just not had names for them.  They are the ones who provide the answers to problems I could never solve without In-tuition—the teaching that comes from Within. They have all sorts of useful ideas and guide me with impulses and insights that work beautifully when I am open to receiving them. No doubt there are a number of wisely Silent women helping me too—but they are not as flamboyant as these two characters. I’ve learned that they help when I ask, only when I ask—and sometimes the asking is actually begging.  This is the thing with Spirit Guides.  They don’t seem to help if they are not invited.  They just sit around laughing, swallowing pints of Guinness and Chianti and pestering Prudence.  Like the tailors featured in most fairytales, they are incredibly resourceful, imaginative, and unbelievably cheeky.  But they work fast.  Their insights come at blinding speed—though never exactly in the moment I want them to.

“You cannot solve the problem you just got yourself into while you are still looking at the problem,” they seem to say. “Play us a tune on your fiddle! Take a nap! We’ll sort you out…”

“But I can’t take a nap or play the fiddle!! I’m at WORK!  I need to get this done! There is a lady here with two giant gaps on the sides of her backless dress who expects those gaps to go away by tomorrow.  The dress has got rhinestones that have to be moved, all sorts of ruching over the top layer and the lining is that cheap knit shit that runs faster than Usain Bolt when you poke it the wrong way with a needle. My sewing machine just pooped out a lump of black bobbin grease on a white pair of pants and what about that guy whose head is half-way down the hill on the other side of his shoulders—we need to get his suit collar to lie down on his neck instead of resembling an open grain scoop sticking out of his back. What about that?”

I look down at the table below me.  I have pulled too hard on the fabric rushing under the needle—it’s stretch fabric—and now the crotch I have been repairing has an undesirable “wave” to it.  One of the tailors in my head begins to sing “Wavy…wavy…crotch it” to the tune of “Davy, Davy Crocket, King of the Wild Frontier.” This is NOT helpful! Though I cannot help giggling. Then I feel familiar panic and decide that the best thing I can do right now is shave my head, grow a beard (my chin is trying to anyway…) and move to Bora Bora and never tell anyone ever again that I know how to thread a needle.

“Please, guys!” I wimper. “You’ve GOT to help me.  What about ‘ask and thou shall receive,’ eh? I’m ASKING!!!!”

“Ah,” says one cheeky devil, crossing his legs and lighting a pipe, “but you are not ready to Receive. The energy difference between a Problem and a Solution is huge.  We’re old men with nothing to do.  Time doesn’t exist for us. We’ll wait.”

I’m flabbergasted.  I want to scream. These problems are so huge and I have no idea what to do and people are counting on me. I’ll have to go on Youtube during my lunchbreak to see if they say anything about how to bring the collar of a man’s jacket down to where it will actually take a passing interest in his neck. It’s probably the first thing they teach you in Sewing School, but I didn’t go to that.  I’m making this up as I go along, as I do everything.

“Drop the problem,” say the jolly Tailors again. “You cannot see the solutions while you are obsessing over the problems. Stop arguing for your limitations. Stop explaining why you cannot do this. Stop feeling like a victim.  We have a slew of fabulous suggestions for you as soon as you stop wimpering like…well, a thing that wimpers a lot.”

“Wimpering is what she does best,” says Prudence, who cannot help herself. “If she had tried harder in Math, she could have a REAL job and not be in this mess in the first place.”

The tailors glare at her. This IS a real job. The Best Job. A Useful gift to the world and to people who might otherwise have to roam the earth with their ankles hidden for all time. The Irish one draws his sword, ready to duel. The Italian one just grins at her and mimes a “pinching” motion with his hand. She flees.

“Prudence doesn’t know the first thing about sewing,” I explain, “but had she ever learned, she should have been a great proficient!”

“Aye,” says the Irish guy, “like most armchair Experts.”

A customer in the early stages of Alzheimer’s comes in to the shop to collect his clothes. “Have I been here already?” he wants to know. “Yes, we say.  This is your third time today. You already got everything when you picked up the first time.”  He smiles in a fragile, concerned way that contains no joy.  He is confused. The voices in his head are not saying the right things to him these days.  Some are going silent.  He is floundering, cut off from his inner “knowing.”  He shouldn’t be out driving alone. We make plans to notify his daughter as soon as he leaves the shop. There is a sobering chill that penetrates the heat in the shop.

 “Tuition” can mean many things. Parents of undergraduates know it to be the thing that means “no discretionary income until graduation” that shackles them to a form of modern indentured servitude. Actually, it comes from the Latin root tueri, which means “to watch or guard.” I assumed the word “intuition” would be related, since it seems to have a similar root. My best guess would have been “inner teacher or inner guardian.” Instead, intuition comes from the Latin verb intueri translated as "consider" or from the late Middle English word intuit, "to contemplate". Plato is the first philosopher to discuss intuition, which he defines in The Republic as “a fundamental capacity of human reason to comprehend the true nature of  reality” Jung defines intuition as "perception via the unconscious": using sense-perception only as a starting point, to bring forth ideas, images, possibilities, ways out of a blocked situation, by a process that is mostly unconscious.  In more-recent psychology, intuition can encompass the ability to know valid solutions to problems and decision making.  Yep, that sounds like Mick and Cesare, alright. When those wise guys get around to it…

Eventually, when I am in a calmer state, looking only for Solutions, they help instantly.  Suddenly, I can see that by treating the inner lining of the backless dress separately from the outer layer, I can put a big dart in it to take up the excess fabric, and reconfigure the fashion fabric over it to conceal it, trimming where necessary.  I remake both sides, taking a total of four inches out of the back, and no one is the wiser. The man’s collar I can lower by removing the felted bit under the collar and putting a similar dart in the very top of the coat.  When he comes back to try it on, he is in raptures. “I never had a coat fit me this good in a long time!” he crows. “This body ain’t an easy fit.  Look at me! This is as good as the old-world tailors of when I was a boy.” (Upstairs, Mick Barton and Cesare are slapping each other on the back and beginning to snuffle around for their tobacco pouches and whisky.)  “Yes Sir,” I say to the man. “It is indeed. Those old boys teach me a lot.”

There is incredible power in our inner minds, when we stop to listen, when we seek Solutions, instead of focusing on problems, when we open to Suggestions. I am incredibly excited about this discovery.  I think it is at the heart of any Creative Process—or problem solving. Have you ever noticed how often you wake up with new innovations after a break or a nap? I think the Unconscious Mind is something like our modern cell phones in that they are tools that can do SO MUCH MORE—with so much capacity it boggles the mind—than just the basics.  Though, at the heart of it all, it is a Listening Device for the purposes of Communication.

“Yes…” says Prudence, “AND…I would like to remind you that your Unconscious Mind also ate half a paper towel wrapped around your breakfast sandwich on your way to work this morning, while you weren’t looking!”

Be Well, my darlings!  May you hear Helpful Things from Within.  And no matter where it comes from, Let there be Learning!  Thank you for your Loving Work today and always.

Yours aye,

Nancy

 

Imposters

It’s helpful to have some arrogance with paranoia. If we were all paranoia, we’d never leave the house. If we were all arrogance, no one would want us to leave the house.’ Chris Martin

Greetings my Darlings,

An energetic woman is in the fitting room clawing at the neckline of her dress like it is a rash.  To compensate for her short-waistedness, we have had to take up the shoulders about three and a half inches.  Now she feels like she is being choked.  Two angry red flares are showing in her cheeks and her eyes are flashing glassy with held-back tears as she glares at the dress in the mirror. She turns to me suddenly and says, “I hate this dress but I need it to be perfect.  I shouldn’t even be going to this wedding.  I don’t belong.” I understand her perfectly.  I can lower that neckline by an inch by tomorrow so that she can breathe.  Sometimes breathing itself is a tall order when we feel we don’t Belong.

Meanwhile, a fabulous young man has started working with us in the shop.  His life goal is to join our little Seamster’s Union.  When I ask him if he would like to be mentioned in this blog, he claps his hands and says, “Oh, Yes!  Only I want to portrayed as a Middle-aged White Woman who doesn’t really need this job.” We all laugh.   She brings in samples of her work and we ooh and ahh over her sense of texture, color, style.  This kid is really creative, for a Middle-aged white woman who doesn’t need this job.  She whips up things like “Sandy” had for Bette Middler’s character  “Barbara” to wear in the 80’s movie “Ruthless People.”  Bold, imaginative, with strong lines and colors--it’s incredible stuff.   She taught herself all she knows, which is so impressive.  Unfortunately, she did not teach herself how to shank a button, how to alter clothing (only how to make it from scratch, which is a completely different ball of wax, or whacks, as the case may be…), and she has never used a blind hemmer or a serger or any of the other specialty machines we have in the shop.  Now she is stuck hemming jeans and struggling with patching faded jackets that really should be put out of their misery and up-cycled into tea cozies.   It isn’t long before I find this poor, Middle-aged White Woman slumped over the blind hemmer, trying to rethread it for the fourth time, mumbling in despair, “I thought I could sew… I feel like I can’t sew… This is just awful…I can’t do anything…”

“Chin up, honey,” I say, “Seamsters are Tough.  Seamsters don’t cry.   You can do this!  You are doing fine.  We’ve ALL Been There!”   And it’s true.  We have.  But she continues to shrink—the shame waves billowing off her are palpable as she submerges herself in despair.  She cares SO much.  It’s so important that she be Perfect. Immediately. Without Practice.  Without Instruction. Magically Perfect.   It’s adorable,  how innocently arrogant she is, to think she ought to be as good as those who have been doing this for more than thirty years already… Skill is dearly bought. Muscle memory takes thousands of repetitions. Learning takes failing.  I want to hug her and smack her and “fix” her all at the same time. Instead, I turn away and let her feel what she is feeling. This is a powerful “Ego-in-the-woodchipper” moment for her.  Who am I to deprive her of it?  I know enough about Ego-in-the-woodchipper moments to know the blessings they bring.

Imposter Syndrome is all about lurching or sashaying between arrogance and paranoia, and bumping up against our ignorance or lack of experience in the middle.  Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly but it takes some arrogance to want to do it in the first place. Then we have to live with all the growing pains.

Some of us feel the yearning in our hearts to do things or Be things and we attempt them despite the steep climb ahead of us because we know that to ignore this Call, this Gift, this Invitation is to abort a part of ourselves we could never be otherwise.  I grew up in a community that talked a lot about Vocations, but when it came right down to it, the options were few and did not seem to involve sewing machines or sheep dung.  While it was clear very early that my talents veered towards music, art, and stories, I was consistently told by Those Who Knew Better, that I needed to do remedial math courses instead.  It was like telling a fish to ride a bicycle. A conversation that NEVER happened (but was clearly Understood as though it had) went something like this:

            Me: “But God would not have given me both these gifts and the yearning to use them if I wasn’t supposed to Use them for His Glory!”

            Those Who Knew Better: “Well God has no idea what the current labor market is for storytellers and folk-musicians.  He clearly wasn’t thinking straight.  You need to learn how to do Calculus this semester so that you can be a Specialist-who-needed-Calculus-to-get-Certified. If you don’t have a piece of paper saying you can Do Something, your life will be a Colossal Failure and you will wind up in mis-matched socks, smelling vaguely of cheap gin on the road to perdition.”

            Me: “But what if, as God’s Child, He just wants me to be Happy and he gave me these things so that I could be very, Very happy serving his Other Children?”

            Those Who Knew Better: “That’s Ridiculous. God does not work like that.  Money may be the root of all Evil but you’re still going to need plenty of it and you can’t make money being “happy.” Besides, we aren’t supposed to be happy.  You are here to Suffer.  All of life is Suffering.  (Hence Calculus).”

            Me: “Wait…I thought this was a Catholic School…Are we Buddhists now?”

And thirty years later, I didn’t ever manage to pass Calculus and my life has been…well… the life of the Perpetual Imposter. I wasn’t “supposed to be” who I am.  I was supposed to be Something Else but I could not pass Calculus.  And I must confess I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun on the detour!  I’ve been a mother, a seamster, a teacher, a cook, a gardener, a farmer, and a dabbler in all sorts of things that defy labels.   I’ve also wasted monumental amounts of time in sweat-drenching, colon-twisting anxiety about What Others Might Think and feeling like I don’t Belong.  This has led to an untellable amount of heartbreak and disaster. 

What I have learned is that if your heart gets broken, that turns out to be a Jolly Useful Thing.  It just means you have pieces you can share now, like cuttings from a house plant, that you can give to others whose hearts need healing as they Dare to be Themselves.  Those heart cuttings, properly tended, can grow new roots and flourish in gorgeous new ways when others lose heart, lose sight, and think they are imposing or Imposters.   

One of the things I enjoy most is telling stories.  The only way I can do that is to Write and tell stories.  So I do.  Hence this 4:am blog.  Sometimes it’s excruciatingly raw and embarrassing.   I don’t know how to do the basics—the equivalents of shanking a button, or using the machinery.  (Mere Children have to show me again and again how to post on Instagram.)  Sometimes I hit “publish” and feel nausea.  Sometimes I see my threads of thought get tangled or unraveled but I have left myself no time to edit, or rewrite.  I vascillate between triumph and despair so often and so much that when a “Professional Writer” for prestigious publications mentions that he might read an entry, I go into a shame spiral the likes of which make the Middle Aged White Woman slumped over the blind hemmer look like she just had a mild menstrual cramp.   I instantly “un-friend” him and block his phone number for days. I just don’t want to look this Stupid.  

Nevertheless, I persist….

My darling Scottish Nephew, whom I adore, comes to visit for the weekend.  He is handsome, wise and kind and, at only twenty years of age, the very pinnacle of physical perfection. He dances for the Royal Ballet in London and they have just been on tour in Japan and L.A. I ask him how it feels to be in those big shows, on those massive stages, traveling around the world.  “Do you ever feel like you don’t belong, like an Imposter?” He smiles sheepishly, “Of course! All the time. It helps me focus and work harder.  But My worst days of all are when I think, ‘what’s this all about anyway? What am I doing with my life but striving to entertain or distract wealthy people…’ That’s when I have to think seriously about the nature of Art and why it’s worth doing. Why anything is worth doing…”   His answers take us trudging up a nearby mountain, through dinner, and deep into an evening around a campfire.  When we do things for the sheer Love of them, without thought to audience or paycheck—when we get to experience that sensation of a soul in flight, in pure Flow—Nothing is Frivolous.  Nothing is not worth doing.

Who are we to look at our gifts, our calls, our talents, and say that our God/s had no idea what S/he was doing? That we don’t have Enough? Who’s to say that the mere Wanting to fulfill a dream is not Reason enough to do it? Are these calls not also Divine micro-vocations?  (from Vocare: Latin for “call.” )  All I can say for sure is that Not Answering is far more dangerous than looking like a total arse in front of other humans who are secretly terrified by the idea that they look like arses too.   As I used to say of my housekeeping habits “I am here to make you all feel Wonderful: The Slackers can see they are not alone and the Achievers can enjoy an enhanced self-satisfaction that they can do better than this. Everybody wins!”

Erma Bombeck said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'.  For some of you, that is going to take some doing!  You have SO many talents. And to anyone contemplating the Vulnerability of risking your True Self in public, I say, let’s Do It. Hold my clammy little, calloused hand.  Let’s JUMP! Let’s make a big fun mess and learn as we go. I’ll lower our necklines, if necessary, so we can breathe easier.

Thanks, dear Friends, for the Good Work you do—especially if it takes Courage, especially if you are an Imposter filling in for an “expert” who has yet to show up.

Yours aye,

Nancy

An Inside Job

Some mistakes are worse than others: wearing your underwear inside out isn’t as uncomfortable as wearing it back to front.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Greetings Dear Ones!

I am making Sunday brunch for friends and the kitchen is out of eggs so I dash to the henhouse to gather a few.  I feel terrible robbing their nest while they are looking—usually I offer a distraction like a treat that makes them all run squawking outside while I quickly plunder their smooth, warm treasures.  Lately it’s been difficult. The little ginger hen has been particularly broody lately. Refusing to abandon her post, she crouches in the box, hissing and protecting her darlings from villains like me.  It’s been very warm here recently and when I get back to the stove and crack the first three eggs, they explode with a faint Pop.  A brownish liquid runs from them into the glass measuring cup where I break them one by one before adding them to the pan.  For a second, I wonder why they don’t smell, the way one wonders if that hot sauce is really hot, just before it sears a whole through your tongue.  Within moments, I am running for the compost pile gagging. (I should write a book on how to hostess the most exciting brunches.) From the outside, the eggs looked just fine.  From the inside, I’m going to have to leave the windows open and fans running for a week.

This is often how it is with clothes.  They look fine on the outside but inside they are rotten.  Sometimes gaggably so.  And to fix them, very rarely are we able to do anything topically.  We have to take a blade and dig right in there.  We must excavate and explore the interior spaces, learn every back alley or hidden tunnel, while the body dirt falls on the cutting table and ironing board.  (A co-worker calls beach sand and bugs “surf and turf.”)  Sometimes, we cannot answer a single question without exploratory surgery first.  We get to see ugly like you’ve never dreamed it could be, inside a forty-year-old velvet tuxedo whose wearer appears to have liberally smeared his nether regions with Preparation H before each formal event.  Some of the prettiest dresses on the outside are unmentionably gross on the inside. Often, as we cut along the seams and reveal the seam allowances on the inside, we see what color the garment was when it was made, before it was stained or faded or patched or dyed with mystery beverage by those who serve party punch in trash cans.  There are all kinds of information to be gleaned behind the seams.

We never know what we are going to find inside someone’s clothing but the solutions to their problems begin there.  We must go Inward if we are to solve Outward.  It’s pure Zen.

A woman comes in with her son’s trousers.  The little pucker lines around her mouth reveal her obstinancy. “Can you let these out and lengthen them?” she wants to know but in a way that is telling, rather than asking us. A flushed and starry-eyed Bridesmaid is confused about why her gown looks smooth on the outer layer but she feels the lining “has lumps in it.” A jolly, portly man with dimples wants to know why his suit jacket lining falls down every time he puts his hands in his pockets.  A forlorn bride wants to know if we can let out her gown a trimester’s worth.  To each of them I say, “The only way to answer is to go In and go Deep.”  We cannot tell by looking at the outside what is truly happening on the inside.  We, quite literally, must turn the In side Out. The only barrier standing between the answers we seek and the surface mysteries is our Courage.  We must dare to Sink.  The answers to all these surface questions lie Under.

It’s a fascinating world beneath the linen. A man brings a sport coat to us and insists that we need to do it over for him. We’ve done it wrong, he insists.  He says we were to shorten it but it flops in a disagreeable way that vexes him.  After he leaves, I take it to my table and begin the archeological dig.  I see the work of at least two tailors who went before—the one who made the jacket in the first place, and where the next tailor made some alterations.  It’s as easy to spot the differences as it is to distinguish between people’s signatures.  We each have our own “way.”  With relief, I immediately ascertain that it was not I who caused this problem.  Eagle-eyed Prudence insists we check again to be sure.  She fully expects me to be to blame. But I am not. I am certain I have never worked on this coat before in my life.  Neither has any other person in the shop. None of us do things the way this person has done this work.  The jacket was shortened by folding up the bottom and blind-hemming it in place—leaving a huge wad of fabric tipping outward against the back of the outer layer of the jacket.  Nothing was trimmed off. The bits near the corners were cut and left completely open.  Someone had “stitched in the ditch” in the wrong color thread—probably whatever was conveniently to hand (indicating a lack of professionalism)(or a lack of bog-standard, ubiquitous black thread)(“Nonsense,” says Prudence, “how can it be ubiquitous if there was a lack of it?”)—on all of the vertical seams, making it billow and pucker oddly.  Most home sewers do not own a blind hemmer, so this was obviously some sort of professional—perhaps very old school, working quickly, who didn’t want to charge the guy a lot of money?  Who knows? The speculations are fascinating.  When I show the other ladies what the inside has revealed, we all agree. None of us did this work.  The man must be mistaken.  He is a regular customer and we fix a lot of his clothes—perhaps he got confused.  He bought the jacket second hand and it probably came this way.

We all leave our indelible marks on each other—inside where we cannot see them immediately.  They are marks of love, of trauma, of conflict…the scars of learning and growing.  At least, where clothing is concerned, it’s fairly easy to correct mistakes—once one identifies the problem, it’s only the work of a day to sort things out.  I wish people themselves would be as simple!  If only I could cut through my own seamy-ness, peer under a flap of my own soul and say, “Goodness! Look at this tangled up mess!  What is this??? Is this YARN?” and begin to unwind myself and straighten myself out.  Sport coats are way easier!

Once I understand how the extra fabric in the man’s sport coat is causing his problem, it’s easy to trim the excess, reattach the lining in its proper place and anchor the seam allowances so that the bottom does not sag.  With a good pressing, the jacket looks much better, “Normal” even. 

A young friend eating my now-eggless brunch, smiles at me and says “I’m so glad I have people in my life who challenge me and force me to change my ways!” We have been talking of someone who recently inspired her greatly.  “He called me out on some of my nonsense and I had to agree that he was right.” I gaze at her fondly.  I can appreciate how she has changed, how she is blossoming and coming into her own power, and I am so incredibly pleased for her.  It’s a privilege to see her relinquish all sense of victimhood and step into her own Grace.  She is Magnificent.  After a pause, I say “well, I hope you never expect ME to be that kind of friend!”  She laughs. “Why not?”

“I’m way too lazy.  Besides, I really don’t have the stomach for telling people what is wrong with them. All I can see is what is Right with you.  I’ll be the sort of mushy friend who likes you No Matter What.  The kind who, when you go off your diet, admits that she ate not one but TWO pints of Ice cream the day her sugar-free daughter went back to college.”

“Oh, my God…” she says, snorting tea into her lungs so fast that tears pour down her cheeks as she tries to breathe without laughing. “You didn’t!!”

“Oh, but I did!  And I won’t be the sort of friend who bails you out of jail either, so don’t make me your one phone call…”

“No doubt you’ll probably be locked up with her,” says Prudence, snarkily.  

It’s not my job to change other people. Hell, it’s hard enough to change their clothes!  Besides, I have yet to figure out how to change myself.  The 18th Century Sage, Samuel Johnson  says “The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.”  Yep. Just as I suspected, Happiness, like clothing, is a job one must do from the inside.  After a lifetime of offering “Helpful Suggestions” to roommates, offspring, siblings, a spouse, I may not yet be a fountain of Content but I certainly agree that all attempts to Change Others only multiplies the grief we propose to remove.   (Boy, have I multiplied some Grief in my day!)  From here on in, I’m sticking with pins and pens to do my crafting.  We can work on each other’s clothes, not each other’s souls.  It is not for us to decide how others ought to be internally. Likewise, only we can decide for ourselves—only we know for sure if the Inner and Outer worlds are fitting well, stitched together securely, and Aligned properly.  The Answers are Within. We each get the privilege of Tailoring our own One Precious Life to fit us as we choose.

Be Well, my Dearies!  I love you Just As You Are, ragged Insides and all. Thank you for your Good Work today and for all you do to bring your lovely Light to this world!

Yours aye,

Nancy

With Liberty and Justice for All...

 

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell

Greetings Dear Ones!

Liberty and Justice are hard to find when one is self-employed and trying to keep up with the whims and waistlines of New Englanders embarking on a summer of beaching and barbeques.  As a friend likes to joke, “When you work for yourself, you can work any eighty hours a week you like!” Trying to please people who have no idea what they want is its own kind of tyranny—and where is the Justice when bitchy brides like “Brittany” decide to stiff you after more than forty hours of work?  (Such are the joys of Capitalism.)  Of course true Freedom comes from many things—ironically, the most important ways involve focus, awareness, discipline, and the myriad of tiny, petty, unsexy ways we choose to sacrifice ourselves for others or a Greater Good.  Dedicated practicing of any skill leads to freedoms and privileges that Proficiency unlocks.  Sacrifice: the Sacred Trade. I know I must Contain Myself but I keep escaping, much to Prudence’s despair. 

This week, I am a Bell at Liberty—the shop is closed, as are many of the area businesses, including dry-cleaners whom we service.  Most folks are going on some sort of vacation but to me, the real treat is in getting to stay home with my lambs and animals.  In the absence of my usual daily and weekly routines, I am pondering freedom and anarchy.  To ward off the anarchy of “free” time, and make certain jobs seem more fun, I have given myself a game of “Chore Bingo.” I make a grid and fill in the boxes with things I want to accomplish in this precious week of “spare time”—things like “mow lawn,” “clean attic,” “throw out all the frozen food that is more than two years old so you can fill the freezer with yarn instead” (to protect it from moths), “find out what that dank smell in the basement is…”  I can do things in any order and I color each box as I complete the task.  I had planned to reward myself for completing each row with unseemly amounts of ice cream but my twenty-one-year-old daughter ruined it all by coming home and announcing that sugar is POISON and that I must support her in a total renunciation of anything refined.  As a college student, she’s learned A Thing Or Two… She has compelling Science to prove her points. She is adamant.  

So, here I am, unexpectedly attempting to live an UNREFINED life, which puts me in mind of that Gloria Steinem quote: "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off, " which is pretty much how I feel foregoing having the most amazing, local, farm-stand-fresh-from-the-cows-staring-at-you-over-the-fence, what-New-England-does-Best kind of ice cream for supper for a week.  Apparently, I will feel better and radiate a glowing vitality in sixty days or less… How nice for me…. (slump…) Apparently, breaking the chains of my sugar addiction will bring me freedom from all manner of ills, including the aching in my hands, and if I don’t live forever, at least it will feel like that. (How soon is lunch? What?? THREE more hours??) Apparently, the urge to poke this child of mine repeatedly with a sharp fork will pass, along with the cravings… 

It’s good to have freedom from the shop…The last few days before the break were fraught with the demands of people who could not contemplate attending Uncle Louie’s holiday barbeque without the appropriate seasonal attire.  Chowing charred weiners and warm potato salad in celebration of America’s Independence in a flag-colored mini-skirt that gaps a little over the hip was a fate that did not bear facing.  For one, the Pursuit of Happiness involved making a seamstress redo a jacket four times to make it look like his clothing comes in cans.  Another woman demanded we make a one-piece pull-over dress that looked like something that should be used in the annual family sack race be “um…you know…tailored to flatter her figure more.”  She kept grabbing fistfuls of fabric from around her middle and asking why we couldn’t “do something.” Explaining that we could not take it in as much as she wanted or she would not be able to get it off over her head again was futile.  She looked at us as if we were just being difficult.  Our Nation has not gone to war, nearly every single generation since 1776 to defend Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Bargains so that she could wait two weeks for this either.  She needed it Friday at the latest.  I was tempted to stitch her right into it so tight that she could not get out but I knew I would just have to do it over, so I curtailed my freedom of speech and held pins in my mouth to help me be quiet.

All month, people have been exercising their dearly-bought rights to bare arms and belly rings and cleavage and something called the “under-bum” which I had no idea had a name.  Prudence views such outfits as a total scandal.  She does not think that the farmers of Lexington and Concord took their pitchforks in hand and drove the “lobster-backs” through the streets of Arlington so that future generations could glimpse under-bums.  Liberty should not be extended to the fleshy parts of humanity that belong under several layers of knickers, bloomers, and Spanx.  For the love of all that is Holy, why can’t we bring back petticoats to the ankle? All men might be created equal but all bums are not. (This, I am certain, is what ultimately caused the Great Depression.)

On July 3,1776, John Adams wrote to Abigail: The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore

Ok, so the poor man was off by two days… Still, Two hundred and forty three years later, his visions are mostly correct—if we keep the view very fuzzy and from a great distance.  We’ve gone a little scanty on the solemn acts of devotions to God Almighty but we’ve more than made up for it in pomp, parades, and Chinese Firework purchases from roadside stands in New Hampshire, from guys like “Hank” who have spent their dental hygiene budget on tattoos instead (hence the need for beer and potato salad as their main form of nourishment).  Who knows? I even believe (in fact, I am quite certain) that the founding teenagers were just as concerned about hem-lengths and displaying a shapely calf as their twenty-first century counterparts.

Thanks to those brave Patriots, sweating it out in the 1776 Continental Congress meeting in July in Philadelphia, we have thrown off the yoke of British Imperialism and are free to consume as many mass-produced, poorly fitting internet purchases from China as we please.  As Napoleon Bonepart commented, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide." Word. Dude, Totally! I see it in the dressing room every day—women paralyzed by the choices before them:  backless or strapless? Spanx or no Spanx? Buy the next size up or wire your jaw shut until the wedding?

And let’s face it, as Patriotic Americans—we have a lot to decide in the hours and months ahead: Burgers or hotdogs? Coke or Pepsi? Current Washington Politics or Sanity? Fish, or cut bait? The Democratic Republic our Founding Parents set up ensures that we get a vote.  It’s not necessarily a vote that counts but so what? Vote anyway.  A well-functioning democracy means that less than most of us get to be unhappy.   

Prudence is of the opinion that in order to enjoy freedom, we really need to control ourselves—the way a well-structured gown is actually easier to move in than a loose-fitting sack that gives no support.  If you intend to go strapless, then you will require a lot of boning around your mid-section. You need Stability to go free. Anyone who has had her knees bound together by sagging panty-hose will tell you this.  Freedom is not the absence of structure—it’s getting the chance to be who we really are—or never thought we could be because of the fabric of support enveloping us.  Freedom is what we continue to co-create from all that has been done for us beforehand, behind the scenes.  Whether you are in a mob cap or baseball cap, go forth and exercise Ye Olde inalienable right to be Dowdy or Dazzling, Dapper or Drab! Thanks Be, you are Free to Choose.  (But you might not get your orders done until next week!)

Yours aye,

Nancy (Liberty) Bell

The Straight of the Goods

“Wobbly seams charm no one.” –from a Vintage sewing book

Greetings Dear Ones!

Once upon a time, a tired little seamstress woke up feeling somewhat out of sorts.  She lay in her bed and considered the day ahead—filled as she knew it might be with clogged bobbins, snaggled threads, mischievous measurements, and middle-raged customers.   Her internal celestial “channel” was not tuned to the Divine, but rather her dial had shifted to some rather horrible static, as if she had hit the AM rather than FM button on the radio.  In fact, it was AM—very early AM, thanks to the bleating of the lambs and the thimble-sized bladders of her dogs.  She thought, “I have plenty of time--all I have to do is get my circuits realigned and All Shall BE Well.  I just need to Meditate, journal, do what my children call some New Age sort of “Hooey Pooey” with my Angel cards… When I am tuned in properly, I can do Good Work and find any customer Adorable, even if he or she is being ornery. But if I stay in this frame of mind, it will be a horrible day, no matter how nice people are.” It seemed like a good plan.

 “Rubbish,” huffed Prudence. “You just need to get up and Do What Needs to Be Done for the sheer hell of it. You needn’t feel good about it.”  But our tired little seamstress realized that she was at all times responsible for her own mental state.  Besides, who wants to work with a woman in an anti-virtuous mode of mind resentfully sewing lace on a wedding dress, or cursing crotch crud in a pair of trousers that needs to be let out? Happiness is not circumstantial. It takes inner practice, just like scales on a violin. She did her morning chores, fed her animals, then started running the bath water for her morning ablutions. (Ablutions sounds like a more fairy-tale sort of word than “scrubbing her pits.”)  She thought about how Delicious it is to meditate in a bath of warm water—to lie down and feel one’s abdomen rising and falling, floating and sinking, with each breath.  She had one toe in the water when, from the next room, she could hear the two male Jack Russells getting into a difference of opinion about whose turn it was to lick a recently-emptied bowl of food. Before she could reach them, they had each other by the ears and were tearing the fur off each other.  She grabbed a towel, and threw it over them. One was hanging from the other’s neck and would not let go.  She did the only thing she could think of—she threw the whole bundle into the tub of hot water.  Eventually, sputtering with rage, one spit the other out and she was able to run, naked, wet and bloody, down the stairs to evict each snarling villian.  She took one look at the bath water laced with tendrils of blood as if there had been a miniature shark attack, drained it, and showered instead. 

Still devoted to the idea of Raising her Consciousness, she decided to listen to some Sacred Music while she made breakfast.  Perhaps she could achieve Serenity with a little multi-tasking.  Then she remembered the chickens needed water.  She dashed outside in wellie-boots and a bathrobe to water the chickens.  When it came time to leave for work, she could not locate her phone. For twenty minutes, she behaved like a deranged criminal in her own home, ripping cushions off couches, opening and slamming cupboards and drawers, dumping things, overturning things…all in quest of the damn phone.  Then she remembered. She had been listening to the music on the phone—sure enough, it had fallen in the chicken coop.  At least the chickens looked more sedate after listening to chant for twenty minutes…

Now late, her herbal-organic-hippie-crunchy granola-scented deodorant had already given out, her house was trashed and she needed another shower.  So much for her Morning Tranquility Practices! She dove into her car and sped off.  En route to work, she noticed the car in front of her was weaving all over the road.  The driver was either texting or had just dumped scalding hot coffee on her crotch.  If that car was a horse and wagon, she would feel compelled to gallop alongside it and grab the bridle and bring it to a safe stop like they do in old westerns. 

At the shop, the first Customer of the day wants ten panels of curtains hemmed. They are cheapo curtains that, straight out of the packages, are ten different lengths.  She considers trying to explain to the customer why they will never hang straight but decides to nod and keep Silent until the customer leaves.  They have not been cut on the Straight of the Goods. What is the Straight of the Goods, you ask?  It has to do with following the grain of the fabric.  Grain, as you well know, is something useful in the production of whisky. Although there is no actual barley in fabric, we do refer to “grain” as the direction of the warp and the weft in a woven fabric. The threads in a woven fabric are set up on a loom in a lengthwise and crosswise orientation. The lengthwise grain is used to lay out the garment pattern pieces. The crosswise grain runs from one selvage edge to the other.  What is selvedge? That is the hard edge that runs parallel to the grain, or warp, of your fabric, the bit you think you don’t need. If fabric were a cheese, it would be the rind.  It sounds a bit like “salvage,” which is what you are often trying to do when you have to go back and cut out pieces as close as possible to this finished edge.

To find the straight of the goods, one must either patiently pull out one of the weft threads, or, more simply, rip the fabric along the weft line. These draperies, mass-produced at some factory somewhere, have not been ripped.  They have been cut.  And not cut straight, although they masquerade as rectangles to the average eye. They are not on “the straight of the goods.” Neither is the fraying little Seamstress in this story. She gazes around the room, at all the things hanging higgledy-piggledy around the shop and begins to giggle. She is blessed with an abundant appreciation of the Ridiculous. Today’s topic is clear: Alignment. (a.k.a. “Welcome to Oh, No, Not Again!”)  Alignment is just as illusive Spiritually as it is in drapery.  She will need a Teacher.

He arrives in the form of a little boy who comes into the shop to hang out with his mother.  After he rearranges all the pins in the pincushions into fascinating geometric patterns the seamstress can not bear to disturb, they decide to let him try to sew on one of the machines.  She traces the first initial of his name on a piece of cloth and he tries to stitch over it using the machine, while her friend works the foot pedal for him.  The boy labors at this intently for some time until he manages to make something he is proud enough to take home to show his daddy. 

It occurs to her, as she watches his small, doughy, untrained hands try to manage the direction of the cloth, that the major difference between a Novice and an Expert is the number of corrections he makes.  This works for everything from bowing a fiddle tune to trying to sew a straight line.  You might think it’s that the novice has to make more corrections.  The opposite is true.  If you watch a novice attempting to sew—he will make a few large, awkward over-corrections that will result in all kinds of zigging and zagging.  The expert is making so many micro-corrections—so fast and so small—that they seem invisible to the naked eye as they are happening.  It’s like she has mental telepathy to tell the fabric where to go.  One simply cannot sew “a straight line” without thousands of adjustments.  The same is true for walking, or driving a car along a highway.   Sewing a line and being in Alignment ourselves are both progressive acts that take constant moderation and correction. People who make it look effortless are doing the exact same amount of work—just less of it more often, perhaps even constantly.

It turns out in this fairytale, that “Happily Ever After” has no “After.”  It’s just Happily Ever-ing.  It doesn’t stay as a static thing. It’s like being balanced in motion, while dancing.  When you are bashing into everything and everyone, Pause. Take a beat, not a beating. Find the Music again (check the chicken coop) and Carry On.   Happiness is a practice, as is sewing a nice straight seam.  The novice swings from wild motion to wild motion, dropping phones in chicken coops, running naked in her wellies and drowning dogs in the bath.  Gradually, she learns to align her thoughts with things that make her laugh, with tunes or friends or plans for the future that make her heart sing.  Sometimes, the fastest way to make something straight is to give it a nice, swift, clean Rip. So rip it, Dearies, Rip it Good!

Some days each of us is fighting a hard, unseen fight—Each kind thought or deed you do is a blessing to this world. So thank you for all your Good Work!

Yours aye,

Nancy

From the Breakdown Lane...

“When you feel yourself breaking down, may you break open instead.” Elizabeth Lesser

Greetings Dear Ones!

For those of you who have never ridden in a commercial tow truck fully dressed in 18th Century clothing, let me just say, you are really missing out!  You must try it some time.  For a start, one is treated very differently than if one is dressed as the average Wall-mart shopper.  You will find yourself handled with the perfect blend of benevolence, humor, and gently affirming pity you have been seeking from all the wrong people your entire life. They will smile and call you ma’am a lot.  They will find you adorable and quaint, even when you are tired and crabby. The driver may even feel compelled to tell you his entire life story while he munches on the last of the period-correct wormy looking apples you offer him.

Since this blog is about “Secrets,” may I admit something?  Secretly, I Love a good Breakdown.  I’m not talking about the average, daily nervous breakdowns where I cannot locate my keys and a bride is waiting for her nine a.m. appointment and I have three minutes to make a seventeen-minute trip.  I’m talking about a hood-up, smoking-engine, leave-you-by-the-side-of-the-road-wondering-if-your-AAA-membership-dues-have-been-paid kind of Breakdown.  It reminds me of so many things that are good for my soul:

a.     I’m not as “in charge of things” as I think I am

b.    Anything can change for the better or the worse at any time

c.     People who collide with us in these moments are usually amazing teachers, whether they themselves realize it or not, whom we could not have met any other way

d.    The harder you hit bottom, the higher you bounce

e.     I am here to Learn, Laugh, and Love—the rest is just fodder for the stories around the business of That

I drive a 2006 Subaru Forester which is turning out to be as fickle as a pet cat that has decided it wants to live at the neighbor’s house.  Only, this car wants to live at the local Auto Repair Shop with its mechanic friend, Eddy.  Lately, it has been giving me fantastic opportunities for the Growth of My Soul—especially on Tuesdays, when my soul does not fancy a growth spurt.

The most recent Opportunity for a Fantastic Breakdown occurs on Saturday, a sparkling but breezy day in Salem, Massachusetts. My inner child is happy that she gets to have play-date with her friends—to dress-up and have a tea party while entertaining Visitors at the National Park Site of the Derby House.  We are re-enacting a political protest against the Townshed Acts, demonstrating a 1769 spinning bee that was one of the first “Buy Local” campaigns in this country.  Interested visitors stop by from Japan and Idaho and we talk and teach and spin bobbins full of lustrous roving into yarn.  But it has been a long afternoon in the sun, and our caps and kerchiefs have argued vigorously with the stiff breeze coming in off the water, leaving our cheeks glowing warmly. My Inner Child is now tired, thirsty, ever so slightly cranky, and wants to go home.  We have at least a three-hour ride ahead of us because we have agreed to give a Dear Lady a lift to her home in New Hampshire.  She is the renowned authoress of Fitting and Proper (the universally recognized authority on American 18th Century clothing) and the revered Grand Dame, the Matriarch of this event.   I can’t believe my luck that I get hours with her in the car, all to myself, to discuss, well, Everything.  She is an endless, fascinating Buffet Feast of ideas, history, information, and opinions.  But her feet hurt her now and her inner child is as anxious to get home as mine.

We bid farewell to our Charming Hostess, Lady Park Ranger Extraordinare, and set off in our caps and bonnets, the car piled high with spinning wheels and basketry, in search of the nearest gas station.  We locate one twelve miles away. (Apparently, the good citizens of Salem have no need of more convenient petrol for their motor vehicles.  Perhaps Broomsticks don’t require it?) Once at the station, we realize that I have left my wallet back at the site.   Much to my mortification, back we head, on the twelve mile quest for the wallet.  Lady Fitting & Proper could not be more gracious.  “We just get more time to chat!” she says brightly.

Approximately 30 minutes later, we are back en route, only to rush headlong into stopped traffic.  “Yay,” we say with gritty smiles, “More time to chat!”  We sweep from century to century--domestic issues, women’s issues, political issues—from Romania to Scotland, from the plight of the Irish in 1850 to the experience of the Ashkenazi Jews post World War II, then back to pottery and why Indigo fracks and leaves your legs blue when you sweat in a new pair of jeans… For the most part, we are oblivious to the traffic beeping and creeping all around us.  Where Route 128 meets Route 95 North, we decide that heading quickly in the Slightly Wrong Direction will be more fun than being at a stand-still in the Right Direction, so we head north with speed and relief.   Later, we decide to take a small country road west to cut over to 93 North, the road we really want to be on—as we are now heading too close to the coast.  It is a beautiful day and we agree that country roads are definitely the Way to Go.  We appreciate and comment on center chimneys, timber framing, lintels and mullions and the vestiges of 18th Century we architecture we discern as we pass through a series of Classic New England country vignettes.  In the center of one of these little Christmas Cards in summer, we roll to a stop at a light and the engine dies.  There is a vague smell of something burning.  The local citizenry of New Hampshire begin honking their horns and zooming past us in frustration when the light turns green for a second time.  I get out and lift the hood and flash the hazard lights.

It immediately occurs to me that we cannot underestimate the role of clothing in these pageants.  Being stranded by the side of the road in clothing from the 1760’s has as much impact on the plot as watching an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” performed in 1920’s attire.  Had we been dressed in furry flip-flops and baggy, stained T-shirts—or pin-striped business suits, who knows what might have happened next? Clothing plays an enormous role in how we are interpreted and treated by others.   “Whatsa-matta lady? Lose your horses?” says the passing driver of a pick-up truck who thinks he is the funniest person he’s met all day.

I decide to pretend I am excited about how this trip is turning out—that each new development is a Delightful Surprise, despite its obvious departure from the Script I had envisioned. 

The next person stops and gets out.  He helps me jump start the car so we can get it off the road.  He is extremely helpful, deferential, and polite, though wide-eyed with wondering.  “Are ya’ll Amish?” he wants to know.

The next Delightful Surprise is the arrival of a police cruiser. I approach his open window in my dusty cap and gown and say, “Excuse me officer. I’m afraid our Time Machine has broken down. It was set to take us to the Future, where we will be snug in our own houses, putting our feet up and having refreshing cups of cool Mint tea.  Unfortunately, it broke down here. And now we are Stuck in This Moment until something changes.” He smirks (but in a kind way) and radios for back-up. “By the way,” I continue, “we are NOT Amish.  We are just Perfectly Ordinary people who like to spin wool and talk to tourists.” He looks at my vehicle, packed with spinning wheels and fleece and just nods.  “Have you called Triple A?” he wants to know.  “Yes, sir,” I have.  They are sending someone within the hour.

I find the best Adventures are where we are not just wet but Soaked, not just sad but Miserable, not just happy but Ecstatic—then we know we have Lived through something and get to tell about it later. Each moment in such a drama is an actress’s chance to decide how she will play the scene—a golden opportunity to Define Herself:  Will there be tears and melodrama? Or Cool Grace? Hissing, growling, and exposing of middle digits to passersby who shout comments about the lack of horses to these two “Amish” ladies? (We AREN’T AMISH, damn it! Though I kinda wish we were… I would vastly prefer a horse and buggy to this dented hunk of metal steaming vaguely in the haze.)

After an interminable wait in the hot car, during which our dismal choices are open windows, cool air, and Bugs (So many bugs!)—or sealed windows, no air, and no bugs—a taxi and a tow truck arrived simultaneously.  The lucky cab driver gets the pleasure of Lady F&P’s conversation and I haul my calico ass up into the cab of the tow truck where I am met with clumps of dog hair and the tales of a Jolly Philosopher whose nickname is “Banana.” His girlfriend’s name is “Monkey.” (I am NOT making this up!) His air conditioner is broken so we eat apples and bugs for the next ninety minutes while he shares his Views on Things.  He talks about losing his first wife to a tragic brain bleed and having his second wife throw all his worldly possessions out into the street when she was pissed off with him… “Women are tricky…” he says, shaking his head. He looks at the road for a mile and then announces “but anyone who ever loved me has changed me for the better.”

That’s it. That’s my take-away.  That makes the whole trip, the whole breakdown, worth it for that sentence.  Monkey is a lucky gal.

At home, finally, I think about the metaphysical journey we are all sharing. There are no fears and no failures worth dwelling in—there are only our Feelings (a.k.a. the Internal GPS), which we must heed as we might heed the rumble strips on the side of the road, that indicate we are veering off course.  These rumble strips signal a lapse in alignment with our true path, that we must make an immediate adjustment.  We are not meant to dwell in the breakdown lane—no more than we would drive for miles with the wheels making that awful racket, while saying “oh, let’s just turn the radio up so we can’t hear it.  Let’s eat or drink or smoke or slap up our credit cards until that dreadful noise goes away…” No!  We simply redirect the vehicle to the center of the road.  Nor do decide to park the car and say, “Well, I guess we live here now!” when we have a breakdown.  We know we are not Home; we know we must do what it takes to get ourselves fixed so that we can keep moving forward.  This means we must ask for and wait for Help.  We must accept what is available. We must be patient and willing to do or pay whatever it takes.  In these moments, we come to understand our own Willingness to continue the journey.  In Surrender, even passengers become Participants.  And if we are Dressed Well in clothes of our own making, so much the better!

No matter what happens to us, Life is pretty much how we imagine it to be. The Miracle just keeps evolving and unfolding each day. Sometimes we are on the Right Path and we just break down anyway.  Maybe so that we can be reminded about what Love it. And that’s a Very Good Thing. Lucky, lucky us!

Be well, my Darlings! Dress your best, whatever that is.  Who knows what adventures await? And May anyone who loves us change us for the better!

Yours Aye,

Nancy

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The perfect gift for Gentle Men...

ELIZA: What's this for?

Professor HIGGINS: To wipe your eyes. To wipe any part of your face that feels moist. Remember, that's your handkerchief and that's your sleeve. Don't confuse one with the other, if you want to become a lady in a shop.  From “My Fair Lady”

 Greetings Dear Ones!

We can tell by the sudden increase in Golfing memorabilia, Fishing memes, and Fart Jokes on Greeting cards that Father’s Day is rolling around again—It’s pretty much the only time of year that the rest of us ever shop at Cabella’s, right?   If a being from outer space were to try to assemble an idea of Fatherhood from the greeting card section of the local shops, they might think fathers are a rather flatulent, poorly groomed subset of humanity, whose recreational rituals revolve around drinking beer while sitting in a boat, or playing some complicated sequence of swing, smash, and waddle that involves metal clubs and cursing at sand pits.  Actual Children don’t seem to enter the picture at all. In fact, why anyone would leave such creatures in charge of their own offspring for an afternoon (or mate with them in the first place) boggles the mind.

Yet these are the very people we expect to teach our sons (and daughters) how true Gentlemen behave.  Let’s step up our game here, people! This Father’s Day, don’t buy into this low-bar image of the men in our lives.  They ARE better and they deserve better!  Want a gift that is simple, classy, elegant and gross all rolled into one? Want the perfect gift for Dad? How about an old-fashioned handkerchief? A nice one.  (I know one father in particular who will be damn lucky to be getting bread and water on Father’s Day! More on this later.)  Maybe you could even take a square of linen, put a neat little rolled hem around the edge and make it yourself!  The poet Emerson says “Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a stone; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.”   Anne Sullivan Macy did not share his sentiments about this one bit, saying “I'd rather break stones on the king's highway than hem a handkerchief.” It’s true—a fine, rolled hem is an act of exquisite and torturous love.  But we digress.

Forget Swiss army knives and nostril-hair trimmers that double as a bottle openers. A Handkerchief is the ultimate in multi-use gadgets.  It’s not just for boogers. It functions as a first-aid kit, a mop, a temporary diaper, a dust mask, a sun hat, a signaling device, a water filtration system, a protective collection point for seashells, and something to hand to anyone sitting through “Steel Magnolias” for the umpteenth time.   When it is not doing any of these things, it should be crisp and clean and folded into a nice, neat little square.   Maybe Dad even needs two. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when school children were required to have a clean handkerchief at all times, their mothers often gave them two—“one for show and one for blow” so that they would always be able produce a clean one at inspection time.

Only since Kleenex did a bang-up marketing campaign, telling us “don’t carry a cold in your pocket” have handkerchiefs become unpopular and passé.  But they are making a comeback. True gentlemen have never been without them since the Romans began carrying them in 1000 BC.  They were mostly used to mop sweat but quickly became status symbols of the wealthy.  Our modern word “handkerchief” actually means a small “kerchief” used by the hand.  Kerchief comes from the French couvrir, which mean “to cover” and chef, which means “head.”  Handkerchiefs even figure in Shakespearian plays like Cymbeline, As You Like It, and most dramatically in Othello, when a misunderstanding over a handkerchief causes Othello to murder his wife Desdemona and then himself.

 For me, a handkerchief is the very symbol of gentlemanly grace and adaptive masculinity that I associate with my own father. Countless times in my life I have witnessed him reaching into his pocket for the clean, neatly folded handkerchief he always carries. When I was twelve, it became my job to iron them. Usually, on the occasions the handkerchief emerged, it was to staunch the blood or tears of someone who had bumped up against one of the harder edges of Life.  In childhood, I saw it dabbed on all our skinned knees that had abandoned bicycles in mid-flight, and for any of the many little leaks he sprung working on the fences around the farm.  He would come in for lunch with a finger or two wrapped in white, a slowly spreading red circle in the middle.  “Fence bit me,” he’d mutter disgustedly.  He was always “springing a leak” he would say and needed a constant supply of these tiny tourniquets in the field.  Whether we were leaking from our eyes or from our knees, that handkerchief was there—an instantly-produced symbol of organized Calm, the ability to absorb Whatever Happens and Make It Better.  Is there anything more Heroic and Masculine than that?   

____________________

Two bright-eyed little girls stand by my table as I sew.  They have accompanied their father on his errands today, to give their mother a break.  They are three-years-old and six. The father goes into the dressing room to try on an old suit that he wants updated (i.e. cuffs and pleats removed, legs tapered and hemmed, jacket made tighter and sleeves shortened) in the hopes of riding the fashion train one more stop before he gets off forever.  The six year old confides with a roll of her eyes that their family has been invited to TWO birthday parties and a graduation party and it’s Father’s Day this weekend. “I just don’t know how I am going to cope with it all!” she says dramatically, in a way that tells me she is mimicking some Older Female she knows.

“Are you doing anything special for your Daddy on Father’s day?” I want to know. The little one nods emphatically, then looks to the older one for confirmation and further details. The older one just shrugs. “I don’t know what to do,” she says blithely.

“Well,” I say, trying to be helpful, “What does your daddy like?”

“Wock and Woll” pipes up the little one.

“Can you learn one of the songs he likes and sing it to him?” I ask.

They shake their heads.  That’s too hard. Besides, where are they going to find a decent cover band, on their budget, at this late stage of the game? They only have a few days left. They look at each other like I am crazy.

“Could you sing him a different song? What songs do you know?” I ask. I am really pushing the music thing here, which they dismiss again.

“No, Daddy does not need more songs.”  We wrack our brains some more. 

“Is there a special treat you could make him to eat?” I ask. “Some daddys like to get the newspaper and some breakfast in bed on Father’s Day.  Would your daddy like that?”

Suddenly they brighten.  “We have SO much Bread!” shrieks the little one, as if she has just discovered Plutonium. 

“Yes,” decides the six-year-old thoughtfully, “we Could give him bread to eat.  And butter.  We could put some butter on the bread and give him bread and butter for breakfast.” Then she cups her hands closely around her mouth and whispers in a stage whisper loud enough to cause a breeze to flutter the dresses hanging nearby, “But IT HAS TO BE A SECRET!  HE MUST NOT FIND OUT!!!”  They put their fingers over their lips and they look as though they are water balloons swelling up, ready to pop.  Their eyes are glowing jewels.  They can’t wait for it to be Father’s Day now.

“Maybe you could draw him a picture, or make a little card, to go with the bread and butter,” I add, going too far, as I always do.  They deflate a little. Why do I keep suggesting all these things that feel like Work?

“Naw…” says the older one. “Bread and butter is good.  He doesn’t need more STUFF.” She acts like she works for Marie Kondo, seeking to eliminate unnecessary clutter from his life.

“Ok,” I say, trying again, “How about a drink. Does he get anything to wash down the bread and butter? Some coffee maybe? Or tea?”

“We can’t make coffee,” says the little one, sadly. “We aren’t allowed to touch it because it is so hot.”  Then she beams. A new thought has landed under all those pretty curls. “We can give him water!  We know how to make water.”

“Yes,” says his authoritative eldest daughter. “He’ll get bread and butter and water.”

Suddenly, I cannot stop giggling.  Something about her definitive Decree makes me think she is talking about a prisoner on ward five, not her father.

“Do you like your father?” I ask. They both hop like little frogs.  They LOVE their daddy.  Oh, SO Much—not quite enough to go to all the trouble of saying it with Crayola, music or markers—but with immense joy none-the-less. “What’s the best thing about your daddy?” I want to know.  The little one’s answer melts me to tears:

“He just bees with us. That’s all.” That’s ALL indeed.  He just bees. BE in present tense—“Someone is going to have to straighten her out,” says Prudence, desperate to correct that charming habit children have of regularizing irregular verbs. I refuse to correct her. I dab at my eyes and smile at these children who spell Love as T-I-M-E.

Their father emerges from his fitting in the dressing room looking harried and sweaty. It’s hot in the shop today. He comes to stand by the girls.  He smiles fondly and asks them if they have been behaving. They begin bouncing again as they each take one of his hands.

I think about them for the rest of the day.  Mothers have to do so much to be “good” mothers.  To be a great dad, really all one has to do is BE there, really there, with your kids.  Some men find this easy and they do a whole lot of other great stuff as well. Some men find it difficult to show up at all—sometimes just Being There is still too much.  I feel sad for these men and all they miss. I feel sad for their children who miss them.

Later, when I get to that father’s suit, sure enough… inside the left breast pocket, tucked away neatly is a clean white handkerchief.  I smile. If his little girls forget to bring him a napkin with his bread and butter and water feast, he’ll be all set. With that square twelve inches of cloth, he’s ready for anything Fatherhood can throw at him.

I feel incredibly lucky to have a father who has Been There so much for me in my life. I feel blessed that my children have a wonderful father who adores them and has never failed to support them to the best of his ability. To all the men who do such an amazing job of Being There for their children, other people’s children, the mothers of their children… I say Thank You. I will make, mend, or iron your handkerchiefs any time!

With so much love & gratitude, I wish you all the Happiest of Father’s Days and all the Bread and Butter and Water you can handle.

Yours aye,

Nancy

 

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What's For You...

“what’s for ye canna get past ye” –Scottish Proverb

Greetings Dear Ones!

In a time long ago and far away, there lived a woman who loved to sew. She worked hard in the Kingdom of Chaos to serve the Prince and Princess in her care. They were being “Home” schooled—which, naturally, meant they were NEVER home, so she dragged all manner of knitting and hand-stitching with her in bags and baskets wherever she went—to swimteam practice, to art class, to music lessons, even to friends’ houses where it was hoped the royal duo could socialize appropriately and not one day turn out “weird.”  Everyone who saw her knew she loved to sew. The kingdom had a neighbor two doors down who was known for having a squeaky pool motor.  (Apparently, the intervening neighbor could not rest comfortably in his hammock in the back yard without this pool motor driving him into homicidal rages against chipmunks.)

 One day, just as the Woman who Loved to Sew was heading out the door and bellowing for the Prince to find his shoes, Mr. Squeaky Pool Motor showed up asking her if she would like a job removing the buttons from about three thousand polo shirts and stitching the neck openings closed.  He thought that because she loved to sew, she might enjoy endlessly snipping buttons off shirts. He had just landed a contract to provide uniforms to a local cereal manufacturer whose employees were not allowed to wear buttons in the factory case they fell off and got into the product (where, presumably, they would be indistinguishable from the rest of the cereal). He would pay her. “Pay? she thought, “what a funny concept.  Imagine getting paid to sew!” She tried to do a few but it did not work out.  She was not home enough. She was not organized enough. It was tedious work.   With a huge sigh of relief, she soon advised him to find another seamstress who could manage this project better.

Time went on, as it does, and the Kingdom of Chaos collapsed and the Prince and Princess went off to real schools in the real world—or perhaps they were fake schools in a fake world, who can really tell? And the Woman Who Loved To Sew found herself unemployed.  A woman she did not know phoned her. “A friend of yours has told me you love to sew and I need to employ someone who needs to sew. Do you think you are interested?”  She was.  She began to work and was paid to sew and she liked it all very much indeed.  Then, one day, on her desk was a pile of shirts.  Her instructions were to cut off all the buttons and to sew the bottom part of the neck openings shut.  She paused. She recognized these shirts.  She looked at the other women in the shop.  “Did these come from Mr. Squeaky Pool Motor?” she enquired. “Why yes, do you know him?  He is one of our regular clients. We do all the uniform altering for an entire factory through him. He brings these shirts by the bale and we handle them.”

The Woman Who Loved to Sew gazed at the mountain of shirts resembling an ugly red tide of seaweed on her desk.  She thought of the Scot’s proverb “wha’s for ye canna get past ye.”  She slumped as she realized she was living out some version of a Greek Tragedy—where she could never escape her Fate. Later that day, after hours of Purgatorial snippings of buttons and stitching the bottom inch of the necks closed, Mr. Squeaky Pool Motor— that cheeky wing-footed messenger to the Damned, showed up to collect the shirts.  He was delighted to see her. “Are you employee of the month yet?” he joked.

In my lifetime, I have found time and time again that the work we are meant to do Finds Us, no matter how we think we are evading it. So too do Blessings find us when we least expect them.  I am desperate to believe in the notion of Free Will—I cannot see how True Love could exist without it—but there are definitely some freaky coincidences that make me feel like we might be just the dice game of  bored gods.  The journey we think we are taking is really a dance going on between what we Think We Want and what we Must Have—the Entwined serpents of perfectionism and endangerment, oscillating  between fidelity and rupture—as we become both the knife and our own wound.  We try to choose wisely, thinking Choice Matters.  Sometimes we have no idea how to orient ourselves except by the tags inside our clothes. (Hint: they go to the back.)

Perhaps versions of this story have happened to you? One day you realize that nothing is really working in your life…that just because you are still breathing does not mean that you are actually Alive. You feel tempted to do more of the same, only longer, harder, faster, better—but you realize that that is the definition of Insanity so you attempt to try something Completely Different. Only that does not work either; just because we are doing something “different” does not mean we are doing anything Right.  Then you find yourself back where you began, only so much worse.

It would be far easier if the Universe provided clear signs, Unmistakable Biblical Omens—like burning bushes or flaming chariots to tell us we are on to the Right Thing. But no… Listening to the internal GPS of the soul is infinitely more tricky and nuanced. I get a lot of “recalculating route… you are approaching a slow-down ahead…you are not on the fastest route…”  Sometimes I have to say my prayers and just lie down and wait.  I know the thing I am looking for is also looking for me. If I am truly meant to do or be or have something, it is also meant to have me.

I am not a fatalist but I recognize that there is a Dance going on in this universe we inhabit. I realize there are ways to ask for what we really want that make it more likely we will get it.  I look to my teachers.  (My teachers are anyone who is near.) This spring, one of my best teachers was a young girl who bought a prom gown from us.  It was a gown that had been hanging in the shop for nearly two years.  It had come to us via a sad story and we had agreed to sell it off to recoup a debt.   It was not an easy-to-sell color or size.  It hung, like a headless, bodiless spectre of Prom all year in its corner.  We tried to sell it off to brides, girls celebrating their Quincineras, or Bat Mitzvahs, you name it.  No one would take it.  I thought of tucking it surreptitiously into people’s bags and padding their bills with a mysterious charge of $300 just to get rid of the thing.  It never worked.  It seemed like we would be haunted by that dress for all eternity.

Then one day, a girl came in with her boyfriend who was having his tux altered for the Prom.  I asked if she had her dress yet. “No,” she said, “I’m looking for a specific color and style. I haven’t found it yet. I’m not even sure where to look…”

 “This color?” I ask, pulling forth The Dreaded Gown.

“YES!!!” she cried. “that’s IT!”

“Try it on,” I insisted, nearly ripping it from its hanger.  “You are just the right size too.”

She put it on and it was PERFECT.  It did not even need to be hemmed!  It was like it was made for her and it had just waited patiently all those years and months, for her to come along and claim it.  “I can’t believe this is a brand new Sherry Hill dress for so little money!” She said. She called her mother who came to see the dress immediately. They both agreed it was a good deal.    However, even at the reduced price, it wasn’t money they had readily to hand. So the girl came back every week during prom season with another few crumpled bills of the money she was earning to pay for the dress.   As I watched her process of Manifestation unfolding, I noticed that she did the following things:

1.      She was Clear. She knew exactly what she wanted.

2.    She Believed. She Understand that she could have it.

3.    She Asked. What does this require? How much money? How will I get this money? What sort of work must I do?

4.    She Responded. She got into action around it to work, earn, show up and pay weekly.

5.     She Released.  She Trusted. She knew we would not sell it to anyone else while she made her payments; she simply connected with the emotions of Joyful anticipation.   

6.    She Recognized immediately that it was “hers” because she had been looking for it.

7.     She was Grateful.  The day she picked up her gown was one of the most delightful days in the shop all season. She was effusive with her thanks and gratitude.

One of the things that impressed me the most was the consistent Belief and Determination in one so young. Mommy and Daddy did not come in and write out a check.  Yet, she felt Deserving.  She honored herself and her dress by earning the money and coming in each week to pay off a little more of the dress.  She managed to give herself exactly the dress she had always wanted for her Prom. I was deeply humbled by her lessons. 

What’s for us cannot get past us.  But sometimes we have to know how to hunt it down and bring it gently to heel.  Sometimes we have to choose to work, carefully, intelligently, consistently to get what we think we want. Getting into Alignment with our needs and wants and desires, rather than living out comic-tragedies resulting from a series of reactions caused by our own Blindness requires a series of conscious choices.  The range of what we want and think and do is limited mostly by what we fail to notice.  How many other girls never saw that dress hanging there for half price? How open are we? Can we observe what is around us mindfully, with a willingness to be changed by what we find?

I adore stories, myths, and legends. But I have found that Words alone do not teach.  (If you have ever attempted to domesticate human teenagers in captivity, you know this to be true.)  Words merely resonate with those who have experienced the same things.  Words remind us of where we have been—not where we can go.

Fate seems willing to give us all we deserve. We just have to remain Connected to our Source and turned to the “On” position—like lamps that won’t glow, or sewing machines that won’t work unless they are plugged in to power. As long as we stay AWAKE, we know our needs will be met. Even if we have no idea exactly what they are.

Be well my Darlings!  Get plugged in, somehow, to the source of your Love & Energy, your Hope & Happiness. May your Good Work, Good Things, and Good Love find you easily today!

Yours aye,

Nancy

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Hemming (and Hawing...)

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” 
― 
Mark Twain

 Greetings Dear Ones!

Before we begin, forgive me, but I must ask… Is there not some better use for your time right now?  Is there something you are putting off doing? Shouldn’t you be mowing something, sorting something, or color-coordinating something? Is your electric bill paid? At the very least, maybe you should be exploring that junk drawer in the kitchen and asking yourself why you have so many dry-wall screws, mystery keys, and rubber bands IN A KITCHEN, for heaven’s sakes! Seriously…What gruesome little chores are you escaping through your feigned interest in stitch-witchery and sheep dung?  

Don’t feel bad if reading this blog is your form of procrastinating.  I’ll let you in on a little secret:  I too am Procrastinating RIGHT NOW! PRO-crastination.  Whatever “Crastination” is, I’m all for it!  Especially if it means I can put off removing all the skin dander from this man’s jeans for a few more moments. What do Mr. I’ve-been-on-Keto-for fifteen-days, Ms. I-just-discovered-hot-yoga and Mr. I-just-had-a-bypass-and-got-close-enough-to-mortality-to-smell-it’s-breath have in common?  Between the three of them, they have no less than 27 pairs of jeans that have to be taken in at the waist and tapered all the way through the seat—through all those many yards of decorative top-stitching that is such a pain in the arse to remove and never looks right again no matter how we try to replicate it.  So this is a marvelous distraction from that…

I have been meaning to write about Procrastination for some time now; I just haven’t gotten around to it. If the good citizens of the Land of Procrastination ever got their act together enough to elect a Queen, it would probably be me. And, honored though I would be, I probably would arrive late to the coronation. No one knows more than I about the fine arts of Procrastination. I have been known to sit down and knit an entire sock just hours before hosting a sit-down dinner for forty people, with not so much as a carrot in sight. I could never get as much slacking done if I wasn’t also capable of extreme efficiency occasionally. 

Ever since I wrote an entire college Honor’s Thesis in less than 75 hours (straight through two nights) thirty years ago, I have been telling myself I need to get a handle on my habits around Procrastination. Soon. Well, Someday…. The Good News is that this habit, maladaptive as it is, has served me well.  I almost always manage to get away with it.  It allows me to front-load my life with a myriad of things I don’t really want to be doing, and still get the Big Stuff done too. Mostly. Except when it doesn’t.  But the steep price I pay is chronic anxiety.  The inversion of “Playing first” and “working later” means that the playing never actually feels like playing.  It comes with a bitter side-dish of guilt.

People scoff and say “You? Procrastinate? Tosh! You’re the busiest person I know!”  Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s because I am also the sneakiest. Sneaky procrastinators look the busiest. It’s one of the ways we manage to get out of having you dare to ask us to do more.  I tried to get a jumpstart on this Blog last night but instead trolled Ebay for green Doc Martens, juggled the emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of three elderly incontinent Jack Russells, spun some alpaca fur, and tried to remember a fiddle tune I learned three weeks ago.  Then I decided to “Get Serious.” This means I ate all the lime gelato in the freezer because “I work best when I am not hungry.” Then I decided to have a nap because “I work better when I am fully rested.”  Then I decided to go mend the fence where the sheep keep escaping because “I work better when they aren’t trampling my Iris patch and devouring the Rhubarb” (which is toxic to them).  (I definitely work better when I am not having to call the Vet!)  And so it went…. I carefully and thoroughly made all the Appropriate Adjustments so that I could bring you My Very Best Work. Finally, all conditions were Prime. But I was exhausted.  So I went to bed.  After all, I definitely write better in the Morning…

Why do we procrastinate? (Admit it, you’re still at it right now!) Is it because we are just total Slackers? That we don’t give a hoot about these things that we say “Really Matter” to us? Is Prudence right? Is this just a dismaying lack of Moral Fiber? As I decide to have more tea before tackling a wedding gown encrusted with beads that must come off, one by one, I realize it’s not that we don’t care enough—it’s that we care far too much. Fear is at the heart of what is shutting us down:

·        Fear of Failure—what if I cannot do this?  What if I take all the beads off this dress and never get them back on the same way?  What if I make this woman resemble a tube of toothpaste that has been squeezed too hard at both ends? What if this ruins her whole wedding and she never gets the chance to take that honeymoon in Aruba and swim with the dolphins and she spends the rest of her life hating me for it?

·        Fear of Decision Making—there are a number of ways I can tailor this dress—which one is going to have the best outcome? How do we define the “best” outcome anyway?  Best for whom? Is this woman going to regain the weight she lost and want this let back out in six months? When is the actual date of this wedding? Should I not cut anything before the next fitting?

·        Fear of Success—If I do a good job at [whatever this wretched task is], am I going to be assigned to [this wretched task] forever more? Will I be the new Queen of Wretched tasks? Will word spread and Peasants drag forth all manner of Wretched Tasks from their wardrobes and bring them and lay them at my feet, hoping I will do them perfectly, cheerfully, and in a timely manner? Will I never do anything else? (I think this is why my mother refused to learn to drive the tractor…)

·        Equating Self-worth with the quality of work—If I do a bad job, I myself am Bad. Yep, here’s the proof.  If I cannot make your awkward neckline curve around your lobsided cleavage just the way you want it, I have Failed as a human being.  No amount of donating to Habitat for Humanity will save me now.  It’s over. I’m done. I might as well take off RUNNING with these scissors until I come to the sticky end I deserve.

·        Focusing on the Outcome instead of the Process—Instead of thinking “I’m so lucky! I love to sew and there is an endless amount of sewing to be done in this magical shop where people bring us more to do all the time,” I count prom dresses and moan “Two hundred and twenty!! Are you out of your mind?! We could encircle New England with that much horsehair braid alone…We can’t do that many!!!” (But we DID—and not all of them at the last minute.)

·        Not equating the emotional impulses of Now with consequences to the Future Self—I tried to raise my children to self-moderate in ways that made them kinder to their future selves.  I remember trying to explain to The Son that getting his school project done early, instead of going fishing with his friend, would make his future self grateful. “Future Son is not going to be happy when he comes home and has to do all this work when he is tired and full of bug bites.  What do you think is the best choice?” He looked right at me and said, “Nah…screw him. He’ll figure it out. That’s his problem!” Hmmm….I wonder where he learned THAT?

I’m Curious. Why do we consistently choose Sabotage over self-regulation?  (“Simple,” says Inner Child, “Because it means we get to eat the ice cream first!” “Because you are Fallen, Wicked,” says Prudence.)  Why attempt to change the cycle of Avoidance-Anxiety-Shame now?  It’s been familiar and predictable, despite the whopping toll in Alka-seltzer bills.  I don’t believe it’s a mere case of Will-Power vs. Resistance. I have proved to myself many times that I DO have will-power. I have hiked mountains, run several half-marathons, and once even learned an entire fiddle tune in the key of F.  I’ve even managed to keep this blog going until this morning…Though I am willing to concede that my sense of “Time Management” is, um… Optimistic at best.

One of the lies I tell myself is that I work best “under pressure.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Few things are as stressful as having a customer watch me thread a needle and then poke myself in the thumb and bleed all over her clothes because I am in a rush to give her stuff that is not quite done. 

What is it that is really at the core of my Resistance?  (Any time there is a Good Thing you know you ought to be doing yet you find yourself Not Doing It, there is Resistance at work.) It’s not the type of activity that makes the difference; I can find ways to procrastinate about anything!  It’s about the sense of Alignment I feel while I am doing it. Unconditional Love is what creates for me the path of Least Resistance.  When I release all those fears listed above and embrace a sense of Love for what I am doing (and who I am doing it for), I open up into a creative flow that jump starts momentum until I can’t wait to get on with it.  I know this sounds corny.  Here is where Prudence jumps in with one of her sermons on the need for “Sacrifice.” Sacrifice, it turns out, has the same root as the word Sacred. It is what we consciously forgo when we release whatever is standing in the way of us getting closer to what is Sacred.  I’m pretty sure that means making us feel Lighter, Stronger, Freer, and even More Creative and Productive—but without the customary last minute Panic Attack.  

What if We Who Procrastinate could just take a moment to gather ourselves in and ask what our Resistance is requiring from us?  (Hint: It’s probably not more cookies, shoes, or booze…) Is it that we are not loving ourselves as we love others? Are we being perfectionistically impossible for ourselves to deal with? Who wants to work for a tyrant, especially the one in your own head?  Is it that we don’t the love others? (especially if they have a tendency to buy pants with too much top-stitching?)  How can we listen to the needs of the various parts of ourselves to rest or to rejoice, in order to renew our commitment to our mission? When we know what to do AND WE DO IT—great things happen.  Joy ensues. Magic Manifests.   

On the Bright Side, not everyone Procrastinates: My co-worker’s daughter texted yesterday to say that she had gotten through her fourteen day diet plan in about four hours. Good for her!

Well, the fun’s over.  Time to get back to work! (after I check my email, of course, then the phone to see if anyone has texted me during the intervening seven minutes since I last checked it!) Be well my Dearies!  Love yourself to itty-bitty-bits today!  Your work will be so much the better for it.

Yours aye,

Nancy

P.S. You didn’t actually think I would get a blog about Procrastinating out on Time, did you?

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Just Do Your Best...

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

– Maya Angelou

 Greetings Dear Ones!

As so often happens here in New England, we no sooner get finished shoveling away the last of the snow, go in to warm up by the fire, then head back to the shed for more wood only to discover that the lilacs have bloomed without warning, the grass needs mowing, and the humidity has turned one’s hair to candy floss that birds want to rip right out of your head and use as nesting material.  (Ok, maybe that last bit is just me…) (But yes, it really happened!) You know you really need to condition your hair when a determined little Tufted Titmouse won’t let you sew outside without pestering you for home goods! Mother Nature seems as good at shifting gears as a sixteen-year-old attempting to drive a Standard transmission for the first time—we have jumped from first gear to high gear and totally ground up the clutch.

In the shop, Prom season is finally winding down, even if the Seamsters aren’t.  (We are still wound up over all the weddings!) June 1st is the last prom and all of the gowns are finished, if not picked up yet.  That just leaves the last minute “malfunctions” to hurdle as they come and then we can close the book on another season. The place looks a little bombed out without all the gowns. We couldn’t possibly have more residual glitter in every conceivable crevice if we had tucked a hand grenade in Tinkerbell’s knickers and pulled the pin.  We are still finding it in our food, in our cars, and on our pillows at night when we go home to sleep. A friend who crafts and sews observes “Glitter is like the Clap of crafting. Once you have it; you can never get rid of it.”  It’s even going home on the suits we tailor for men—men who probably assume all their work was done by pixies.

In addition to weddings, we are starting to get back to more “normal” alterations. (Hint: There is No Such Thing As Normal!)  A woman presents me with her favorite pair of pants.  “I need you to help these pants survive until this kind of waistline comes back in fashion so I can buy more.  It’s neither too high nor too low.  They don’t make them like this right now.”  Prudence nods her head—right now the waistlines on women’s garments are as uncertain as the creek levels in Spring. I look at her trousers. They are black and nicely made.  The fabric looks exhausted and the seams stretched to the point of looking perforated but I don’t immediately perceive anything that requires mending.  Everything just looks frail and strained. I hold them up to the light and daylight streams through certain areas.   She points to two spots immediately below the crotch where the fabric is especially thin. “See here? Chub Rub,” she states flatly. “Any cure for that?  I can’t bear to have that wear right through.”  I offer to patch them but she doesn’t think that will look very good.  “What would you like me to do?” I ask. “Just Do Your Best, Honey,” she says briskly, “You’re the professional.  I’m sure you’ll think of something.”  The brat in me longs to stick her tongue out at the lady as she turns to go. I HATE being told to “do my best.”  Why? Because as a somewhat anxious and sensitive person, I have no idea where that particular goal line is.  When have I arrived? I want to know. “Never,” says Prudence. Am I even Close? “No,” says Prudence.  I slump.

Next in is a fast-talking young man who needs his garment ready in less than three days.   Six months ago, the last time we saw him, we were altering his suit so he could chauffer limousines.  Today, he has the ceremonial robes of a minister and the sleeves are about four inches too long.  How is this newly-minted leader of a flock going to reach the hearts and wallets of his devoted followers without his beautifully expressive hands showing by Friday? The sleeves are long and complicated with huge cuffs that extend to the elbow and are embedded in the outer seam of the sleeve.  “I know it’s a rush job,” he says, “Just Do Your Best.” 

In the corner, is an former nun who wants the sleeves shortened on a Talbot’s jacket.  We can’t turn up the sleeves from the bottom because the button holes are cut.  We cannot take it up at the shoulder because it will narrow the top of the sleeve too much to accommodate the circumference of her upper arm.  “Just do your best,” she says piously, as if she is assigning homework. “That’s all anyone can ask.” “Ah…” says Prudence knowingly, “But you’re asking for a wee bit more, aren’t you?”  After all, if you wanted this to look like crap, you’d try to fix it yourself, wouldn’t you?  You are here asking for MY best because you are willing to bet money (i.e. pay a fee) because you think “my best” is slightly better than your best.  We are ALL hoping that “my best” will be your dream come true.

Just do your best… What is that anyway?  I know these people.  When most say “Just do your best” what they really mean is “slide the needle on that continuum that goes from ‘anything-you-do-is-better-than-the-way-it-is-now’ as far right as you can towards ‘as-good-as-new, well-better-than-new-because-I-probably-shouldn’t-have-bought-it-in-the-first-place…”  When others say it, they mean “I still expect a miracle.  I know you have a magic wand around here somewhere.”   Sometimes, when people say “it doesn’t have to be perfect…just do your best,” they think they are giving us some ease, relieving us of some pressure.  They aren’t.  Are we supposed to believe they would actually accept mediocrity? Nope.  They won’t! “Best” is the moving target we accidentally hit after we aim for Perfect and fail.  Sometimes we have to keep rejecting and revising what seems to be our “best work” until we get something that will fly.  Sometimes we have to start over and over with no vision, no idea of any sort of Platonic Ideal, just warped shadows dancing in the firelight upon the cave wall. Sometimes we find ourselves at 3:pm with a measuring tape, humming a BeeGees melody from the 1970’s and changing the lyrics to “How deep is your crotch, how deep is your crotch, I really need to know… because we’re living in a world of fools…” because some woman has dropped off two pairs of pants that have nothing to do with each other and she wants you to make them match—or “as best you can.”

I notice a bumper sticker on my way home.  It reads, “Just Do your best and God will do the Rest.” Oh goody, I think.  I hope He knows how to use the blind-hemmer!  He’s probably back at the shop right now, trying to get the left side to match the right on that wretched little wind-breaker I “did my best” on today.    The next day, there is no evidence that any Supreme Being has done anything while I was gone. Maybe “my best” wasn’t enough to tempt the Almighty—or perhaps He has the same regard for glitter I do and fled.

“Do your best” is definitely a mantra that leads to misery because, as my beloved brother-in-law from Texas says, “You Can’t Fix Stupid.”  No…but you can watch it in action every day in a tailoring shop when people ask for the Impossible, say “the best” will do, only to find out that “the best” was not all that good in the end. But it was the Best we could do. Truly.   We are the tailoring version of the Statue of Liberty here, saying “Give us your tired (trousers), your poor (internet choices), Your huddled masses (of undergarments) yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming closet….”—we cannot guarantee “Perfick”, we only offer hope for Better.

Here are a few things I have learned from trying to “Do my Best”: 

·         Imagination is often more useful than Knowledge. 

·         Doing our Best does not always make for good sewing but it makes for Good People.  I need to do my best, even when no one else is looking.  That way, even if I am disappointed by the results, I never have to be disappointed in myself.

·         Struggling does not mean I am stupid—it might mean the task is beyond my scope. And that’s ok.

·         My Best varies from day to day—it differs according to the caffeine, sleep, exercise, and food gauges of my body, and whether or not I have spent the dawn hours trying to corral escaped sheep.  (Last week, “my best” included rolling over my own cell phone and crushing it beneath a tire I was trying to check for a puncture.)

·         My “Best” can be any combination of Real, Imperfect, Flawed, Quirky, Weird, Beautiful, or Magical…  It can also be downright awful.

·         I don’t have to be satisfied with my best.  It can be what runners call a PB—the personal best—that is next week’s target to beat. (NOT that I intend to run over multiple cell phones!!!)

·         “Best” can be a “Good Enough” place to end or it can be the pause you take before climbing higher.

Mr.  Liberated Normandy comes in to have his WWII uniform resized to fit him.  It’s a vintage thing he bought on Ebay because his own original version is unavailable for service and he doesn’t want to wear his dress uniform for the upcoming Memorial Parade.  For some reason, he wants to wear this eight- pounds-of-wool jacket that has all the wrong insignia and smells of mothballs and mold instead.  He gives us a picture of how we are supposed to make the insignia look and where the braid needs to go on the sleeves.  Naturally, he does not have the braid and has no idea where we should get it. “Just do your best,” says this Old Soldier who can no longer see.  He is the only WWII veteran left in his town.  I think of him tottering down the street in the heat on Memorial Day and all of those who gave, not just their Best, but their ALL and I am supremely Grateful. Suddenly, dealing with glitter, chub-rub, and jammed hemmers doesn’t seem all that bad.

Do your Best, my darlings, even if it’s not Good Enough. It is.

With love for your Best, your Worst, and your In-between,

Yours aye,

Nancy

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In the Real World...

Greetings my Dear Ones!

Well, the bad sledding we call “Spring” continues here in New England.  Proms are going on despite lashing wind, bucketing rain, and seasonally below average temperatures. Sunday night, surrounding areas got a light dusting of SNOW—but not enough for proper sledding… The dogs and I are still crowding each other around the wood stove in the evenings.  The lambs, bless them, have wooly coats several inches long now and are quite happy bouncing around outside, impervious to the raw weather.

Another thirty gowns left the shop last week and we have called a halt to taking any more in—all we have to do is get the sixty still on the racks OUT before the mothers and fathers subsidizing this frivolous festival of fabric have to eat their weight in alka-seltzer.  Of course, Prom gowns are not all we do here—they aren’t even really the priority.  Weddings are.  Wedding Season overlaps Prom Season, as well as Graduation Season and Rip Your Pants For No Good Reason Season.  In the Feast of Absurdity that is a tailoring shop in Springtime, one portion of the plate is dedicated to Graduation gear.  Quite a number of girls are bringing multiple dresses in along with their prom gowns because they are also Seniors who are graduating.  I spent two days remaking vintage suits for boys who wanted to wear their father’s old tuxedos to their events.  Despite the weather and the dismal chances of a garden, it is a time of great Hope…of Optimistic New Beginnings.  

A graduate-to-be telephones to say that he does not have a cap and gown that fits him.  He wants to know if we can take the zipper out of his gown and then put in [his words] “a huge hunk of stretchy material and then cut that in half and put the zipper back in the middle of that” and how much would that cost?  Did he major in Fashion Design? Prudence wants to know. If not, tell him to shut the hell up and let us do our jobs the way we already know how! His garbled requests are so mystifying over the phone we insist he has to bring this gown into the shop so that we can walk around it in person.

When this engineering student comes in and shows us the situation, we realize that, for all his graduate-level book-learning about physics and geometry, this kid ain’t smarter than a fifth-grader, hell, he ain’t even smarter than a seamstress.   For one thing, in sewing, as in Newtonian physics, for each thing you do to a garment there is an equal and opposite reaction.  To keep things symmetrical i.e. “beautiful” (the ancient Greeks—symmetry = Beauty)  one must split the difference required (whether you are taking in or letting out a garment) and do the SAME THING to both sides as best you can.  Front and back are partners in this, left and rights are partners in this.  It’s like a square dance, with head couples and side couples.  They have to do maneuvers that balance and match.  It’s something we humans appreciate in our dancing as well as our clothing. 

This young man wants to enlarge only the front of his gown, so that the arms and side seams align somewhere with his scapulae. Think of cracking an egg top to bottom and only opening the front.  Naturally, we could not tell someone about to get a big piece of paper for being Smart, how dumb his solution was.  He rants on and on about needing “stretchy material” while we ignore him and take the measurements for the two side panels in matching fabric he needs.  Later, we add extra pleats so that the gown flows around him like a graduation gown is supposed to do.   “He’s going to learn a thing or two once he is out in the Real World,” someone comments. 

It gets me thinking.  What, exactly, IS “the Real World?” Russell Baker said “The best advice I can give anybody about going out in the world is this: Don’t Do it. I have been out there.  It is a mess.” I peer around the shop—this has got to be it. There is a half-naked woman in the dressing room whose feet smell like the inside of a hockey bag; there are scraps and thread and glitter ankle deep all over the floor, the phone won’t stop ringing and there is a man waiting at the counter to tell us that his wife has two different sized legs and we’ve wrecked her pants by hemming them evenly.  A woman who spent the morning sucking down a giant latte laxative from Junk ‘N Donuts has just gone into the restroom and had a dump that is making my eyes water.  It’s even obliterating the pong from Miss Hockey Feet. Beautiful gowns hang from the ceiling everywhere I turn.  I cannot see my co-workers in the forest of pastels… Yep.  This is the Real World alright.  

We are all part of some fantastic Show.  What is “real” about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what sort of costumes we need to act out the pageants of our lives?  Is it “real” to dress everyone in identical ceremonial outfits and then have them listen to a 45 minute address about how Individuality is What Matters out “In the Real World”?  I think about the days when I sat in rows of matching caps and gowns, as if we were all attending Hogwarts, getting thoroughly sedated by the guest speakers, before they opened the gates to ‘the real World’ so we could rush in, like it was an amusement park, and ride all the rides! and transform the landscape with our youth! and energy! and enthusiasm! And, um, crisp…new… knowledge…. (slump) and by the time they were done—we all just stumbled numbly towards our relatives, wondering where we would go to eat and what would happen next.  The “real world” has been something like that ever since—the struggle to locate our families and loved ones, and figure out when and where and what to eat.  I’m pretty sure it’s been like that since cave times.  Get the graduates all fired up on platitudes about “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and achieving the high standards “Of generations that went before you” and then spend the rest of the day wondering where grandma wandered off to. And so it begins… this new chapter in your life.

For those of you who have not been there yet, in the Real World you will find:

·        Salt looks a lot like Sugar—be wary!

·        Your education only qualifies you to do more learning.  You have NOT learned enough—not by a long shot!

·        98% of the people you deal with are actually very nice but the 2% who ruin it for everybody make you wish you for a solitary job in horticulture

·        The boy doesn’t always get the girl

·        The girl doesn’t always get the boy, or the girl, or the job, or the book deal, or the laundry folded…

·        The test comes first, the lessons after

·        Depending where you go to school, you are taught either of two things: that swearing is wrong, or that praying is wrong.  “They” were wrong.  You must do both.

·        Good & Evil are partners here to teach us to step up our game, become better people, and to understand the significance of well-knit socks…

·        Miracles happen when you least expect them

·        So do disasters

·        Only Living prepares us for life and you’ve already done some of that, so you’re good

·        You will need more diapers than you first imagined

To the young graduates shuffling through our shop, before they hop on that Hamster wheel life alarmingly bereft of satisfaction, I want to say:  don’t get stuck spending eight hours a day to get money to buy things you think are going to make you happy, finding out they don’t actually make you happy, then going back to work to trade another eight or eighty hours to see if the next cycle will make you happy… Do the thing that makes your heart sing.  Sometimes it will be hard and that’s good for you.  Good and “easy” are not synonyms.   But pay attention: If what you are doing turns you into someone your own heart does not like, stop doing it. Ask what changes can be made, then make them. When we become people we don’t like, we start to resent those we serve.  No Good comes of that.  Listen to yourself—not the self that says “let’s sit on the couch and binge-watch Netflix”—but the Deep Self, the part of you that knows Right and Wrong.  Listen to that self.

If you can’t hear that self, get quiet and listen harder. There are layers of awareness.  And for Heaven’s sake, DON’T EVER let anyone tell you you are broken or defective.  You are not broken; you are Whole.  Maybe you  are just not yet fully developed—in the same way that my little lambs are not “broken” they are just very young and small and silly and walk as though the earth is a trampoline. In the same way, apple blossoms are not apples yet. Just because they are not apples does not mean they are wrong or “broken”—just that they need time, water, sunlight, bees…  Your youth, your innocence—these are your Gifts, not your Fault.  Take your time, build the self and life you choose.   A lot of the daily stuff will be about where to go, what to wear, how to find the ones you love in the jungle of other faces, but occasionally, you will pull off Great and Magical and Big things.  Be proud of it all. Especially the little stuff.  As Bette Reese said, “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” 

Grow Strong!  Be Well!  Do Great things and make lots of money—Social Security is counting on you! (Ha ha ha)

With all sorts of stinky, smelly, glitter-encrusted REAL love,

Yours aye,

Nancy

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Some Life Questions?

“Knowing the answers will help you in school. Knowing how to question will help you in Life.”

—Warren Berger

Greetings Dear Ones!

Have you ever spent the weekend with a certain friend who leaves you swirling in endless questions? Questions that rip you open and leave you room to grow that, until then, you had not known you needed? How many ways are there to ask such questions?  Is it Ok to have no answers? How may I live at peace with No Answers and instead live more authentically into where these Questions might lead? A musician-prophet my voice recognition software is calling “Elsewhere Phrases” wants to know—Why am I here?  What the hell am I doing at a fiddle camp when I should be cleaning my garage and selling my furniture so I can move and get on to my Someday-Life? Why not a sewing camp? (Are there such things?) Why not a writing weekend, which might be more necessary in the short term? (Should I start a sewing camp?) Would I just wind up cooking instead?  Or would I have to spend a lot of time wondering how to change a fuse box because the teenagers blew all the fuses with their hairdryers?  At the very least, shouldn’t I be back in the shop, laboring over one of the 67 prom gowns, which has to be 3-6 inches shorter by May 11th?

Why go to a fiddle retreat?  Because the grass is too wet to mow? Because I couldn’t face cleaning the garage? Because the Journey Continues?  Or all of these things? Now that I am here, what is the best use of my time—to sit on a couch until the wee hours, making verbal burbled heart-connections with fellow members of this beloved tribe, or shall I travel out alone beneath the stars and use horsehair on a stick to capture one by one notes that scamper like fireflies into the bewildering darkness, until each is safely caught and resting in neat lines along the length of the tune, waiting submissively for me to tap it gently with my finger so it can glow when the time is right?  Awash in music, intoxicated by an ancient Celtic reel clicking by at a heart-rate of 120 beats per minute, in a vortex of vibration, community, and the frictionless flow of a bow arm swinging like a piston on a steam train—is there any better way to LIVE? Ever? If only for a breath, a moment, or an evening that connects itself to Eternity in every direction?

What does it mean to Be Here? To be ALIVE? To me? To you? To any of us? Does that young mother, eating with one arm because the other one is holding a baby, have any idea what she is giving her child as she feeds her with her own hungers for Beauty, for Peace, for the thrill of this Universal Language that connects?  What can mothers ever give us besides Food and also Hunger?

What is to become of us at this camp?  And why did I think it was necessary to consume the Whole of that bean burrito at lunch? Will there be embarrassing consequences? How can I ensure that the “Vibrations” I raise, have nothing to do with the legumes I have ingested? How can we succor each other as we labor to bring Light to a world that cannot yet decide how it wants to be but only knows the choices are “for better or worse” but never for the same?  Will we be better people come Monday? Is there any way to stand up, or sit down, or walk out, sing, speak, or shout, “Please, dear World, Choose Better!!!”? Or should I just cross my legs primly and wait, hoping I make it to the bathroom before everyone rushes out during break time?

Is there no greater act of Courage than in giving your soul to your art—to having some Call from within answered in your handiwork? Is there no greater act of Hope or Fear than in bringing a precious, vulnerable, newborn child into this world so that it can ruin your body, ruin your sleep, alter every aspect of your Life, your schedule, your finances, your flesh, your mind, your heart—yet see it grow so it can hear and play and LIVE this music?

Beyond Pro-birth, what does “Pro-Life” mean? Does it mean ALL life? Does it include spotted things like Owls and Salamanders? Does it mean we cherish our Polar Bears and the Jungle Lungs of the planet? And How do we honor those who bring and bear Life, who nurture, protect, and serve the vulnerable in their care?  Where are the babysitters and math tutors they need? Who is their help? Who brings their food, provides their shelter, lends them vocational or educational support? Where are the extra muscles, hands and feet, when they can go no further, in their deep exhaustion, and do no more for their (our) young?

What was that note that just flashed by? Was it C sharp or C natural? Why are these beans holding me hostage? Why did I eat that Burrito? Where is the balance point in this battle in my head—in the struggle between words and wordlessness?  Should I have stayed home? Was making sure a prom dress was 3 inches shorter a better use of my time? WHY did I eat so many beans?

When the instructor goes around the room and asks us to say why we are here, how do I reply? Is the correct answer to say that I want to master the up-driven bow in a snappy Strathspey? Or Grace notes? Or Love notes? What if I stand up and ask to be Forgiven and leave the “for what” up to everyone’s imaginations? Which will create the worse scandal? Truth or Beans?

What are the choices we make in our own lives, for Life? To be fully ALIVE—mentally, spiritually, organically—beans and all? Does Evil exist in any other form than the limiting, diminishing, or denying the privileges of Life? How can we begin to talk about this in larger, softer, kinder ways? Is there a friendly way to discuss Death when we cannot even decide if the bow should go up or down? For isn’t that what we imply, every time Life is mentioned?  How can we enlarge the discussion about the Seed into the discussion of the Forest too? And what it means to Bloom? What are the ingredients we need to Flourish? How can we make sure others are getting what they need too?

What if Life is not something that can be defined by Biologists, Priests, or Doctors? What if it is something that only you and I and the Poets can know for sure, after dancing naked in the rain?  

Who are you? Where have you been? How do you do? What do you do? Why are you here? How long has it been since I’ve seen you? Where are you going? What’s next? Have you found your voice yet? Have you heard your own throat in full song?  What if every relationship we entered into from now on was an answer to the question “What does Cherish mean to you?”

Since when is Cynicism valued over Optimism, as if it is the more intelligent choice? How do we begin the process of installing Sophistication on Optimism and removing its unhelpful connotations of naivete and ignorance? What happens to us when we seek to define ourselves outside of (or without) the traditional contexts of “Success”?  Is the cellist my software insists on calling “Gnat House” talking about a “traumatic” bass line? What is that word she keeps saying? Dramatic?  Is there even a difference anyway?

As notes pelt and land on the desert of my skin, seeping through to join the beating of my blood and emerge as tears, I ask myself, “What is it I have to learn from this kind of Loving?”  What if being around “like-minded” people is actually dangerous?  What if our minds are too small? How can we be around more like-hearted people?

What if I told you that I don’t actually love you for your [music] (or art or science) but for that Thing within you that makes you seek and serve your Gift? Would you understand that? What if it is not about the painting, or the song, or the dance, or the clever use of metaphor I love so much—what if I love best your ability to say YES? What if it’s simply your Thirst for what is Good—for Justice, for the perfection of an up-driven bow, and for “No Voices to be Silenced” by Orchestral or governmental forces, that makes me glimpse your Source, and therefore mine? What if the Serving of that Thing is the thing that makes you most Alive?  When are we going to stop worrying about what size or shape our candles are and start worrying about whether they are Lit?

What is Motherhood, essentially, but saying Yes to the Life crying to be born within us? And how is Mother’s Day to be endured by the aching women who said their Yes, yet whose empty arms extend with desperate longing to hold those yet unborn, those taken too early by disease, accident, drugs, disasters, or incarceration? How do we hold these women in our hearts and hugs and tell them they are not forgotten? That they have not “failed” Motherhood?  How do we include those women who never had their kidneys punched from the inside, who never felt that hot, red, spiral of hellish pain as they pushed another person’s body out of their own body, and tell them they are still Mothers for all they sacrifice in doing What Must be Done for the young? That they are some of the Best mothers of all?

Who said the first Yes to your request to be here? How are you now choosing your own Life? Be it with roses, with kind deeds or chocolates, with a card, or simply in the Silence of your heart—how are you Thanking your own Mother for the gift of your one, tiny, Amazingly Precious Life?

I love you, my Darlings.  Of that, there is no question! Happy Mother’s Day!

Yours aye,

Nancy

 

Faking It

Greetings my dear ones!

Spring has been a bit of Fake News here.  (Well, we certainly aren’t having a heat wave!) Flowers are defiantly squeezing themselves up between cold clots of mud only to be pelted and slain.  All night, Mother Nature chucked pearls at the windows which fell and crusted on my slumping Daffodils who, between the rain and the yellow dog scribbles, are probably wondering why they’ve bothered.  I turned the central heating off weeks ago as a matter of Principle; because the Calendar says I ought to, not because my skin or bones agree.   Even fur-bearing residents are still seeking the heat of the wood stove at day’s end and in the hours before dawn, when we rise but the thermometer doesn’t.

Mr. & Mrs. Wood Swallow, whose summer holiday home is beneath the overhang by my kitchen door, have returned to inspect their nest and to mutter and tut about what a mess it is.  The female glares at me like this is all my fault.  The male perches on a nearby plant hanger, whistling tunelessly, eyeing me with sidelong glances until his partner snaps at him to get back to work. I too am like a bird tearing her next apart—cleaning, clearing, rearranging my home.  We nod civilly, like good neighbors who don’t get too involved in each other’s business, as we pass by in this shared corridor to the garage, each on our way to our version of a dumpster to discard everything that no longer brings us Joy.

Mr. Shorts comes into the shop with everything bare from his ankles to mid thighs.  We remark that it is a bit early for shorts.  Shorts retorts “Anything above 38 degrees is shorts weather in New England.” It’s true that, by this stage of the year, 40 feels balmy—like T-shirt weather—but not in a driving rain and howling wind.  Prudence wrinkles her nose at the sight of a man’s leg before July. At least he is wearing shoes and not socks with sandals.

Prom season has made us all a wee bit tense and crabby in the shop. And by “a wee bit,” you understand I really mean “oh, Hell Yeah!” So I have had to get a hold of this Crabbiness—born of panic and fatigue—and give it a good wrestle, knock it to the ground, and insist to myself and it that I will be CHEARFUL [sic] (I love 18th Century spelling). This is a Great Opportunity to develop some Character around things that bug me.  Happiness is a Choice.  Even if you have to Fake it.

So enough whining.  Speaking of Faking it…On to the topic on everyone’s mind (after the Bruin’s chances in the play-offs, of course): Undergarments. Specifically, padded bras. What good is a blog about the Secrets of a seamstress if we don’t mention the Unmentionables once in a while?  We have another 68 gowns to alter before May 18th (we’ve already finished more than 70) and more are coming in every day. At least 44% will require the addition of Bust pads.  This time of year, we order them by the bale.

“What are bust pads?” ask the Uninitiated. It turns out that Bust Pads are little (or large) things that look like dented jam donuts with all the jam mooshed out of them that get sewn into a dress so that you don’t have to wear a bra stuffed with toilet paper to make the dress fit. Who knew? You would think I, of all people, would have known about this sooner—after spending anguished years as a teen, trying to fill out a AA cups that wouldn’t contain so much as a poached egg. (Though, in this weather, a bra full of cotton-balls does benefit the wearer a little extra warmth!)

Whether you scorn ladies undergarments as symbols of Patriarchal Oppression or, as in recent decades (think Victoria’s Secret), hail them as a source of female sexual empowerment, it’s undeniable that they have been an endless source of fascination, contention, and debate since women began wearing underwear. In the Victorian era, dress reformers declared that restrictive garments prevented women living healthy lives, and dared to argue that underwear should not “exceed seven pounds in weight.” (Try telling that to some of our customers! You should see what they lug in here!) Underwear gives us a glimpse into a larger story: the expectations, limitations and status afforded to women throughout history.  Corsets, crinolines and crotch-less pants: for centuries, women have been expected to wear a variety of weird and wonderful contraptions under their clothes to achieve a desirable silhouette. The return of the belly-squishing corset, in the form of the flattering Spanx, shows we’re not over our historical (hysterical?) obsession with flat tummies and small waists.

In the dressing room, we see everything from ribs with nipples to women who would suffer severe head trauma if they jogged.  Not only are no two women exactly alike—on the same woman, not even two breasts are alike.  How this figures into bra sizing makes the mind boggle.  Thanks to modern technology, we now have available to us a dizzying array of synthetic prosthetics for surgery survivors, cross dressers, and those, like me, who got two generous helpings of rump and forgot to add breasts when they went through Heaven’s Body Buffet.  Now, toilet paper is once again free to be used for what it does best—and making nun’s costumes for Barbies. (You might have to reread past blog entries to get that last reference…)

For the most part, this is a female issue.  Guys, for all their insecurities about “size issues,” don’t seem to worry enough to fill their jock straps with Kleenex on a regular basis. Nor do their “fashionable silhouettes” require this of them, cod-pieces having gone out of style in the 17th century.  But girls… wow! Day after day, I witness them in all their anxious vulnerability, wearing big, clunky sports bras underneath their prom gowns. They stand there, their dignity and crinolines so tightly furled about them, as they clutch at their meager bosoms and wonder what can be done about these gaudy bodices that dent inward. I feel their pain.  I hope it does not take them another thirty years to understand that Femininity and Allure have nothing to do with how much adipose tissue you have or where it is located.  No woman can be considered truly “sexy” who does not love herself.  It’s not what you put on yourself, but what you summon from within  that makes people sit up and notice. Well…most of the time. (I’ll admit that it IS possible to roam the streets of Boston taking selfies in leather bondage gear with Smurf-Blue hair to your hips and get more than a few people at a traditional music session in an Irish pub to go to the window to Look at you!)(Don’t ask how, but I do know this for a fact…)

Underwear, by its very definition, (hint: the clue is in the name—UNDER) is not meant to be seen. But Underwear doesn’t just shape our bodies, it shapes out lives.  And our History.  It seems to take the pendulum an average of 40 years to complete its swing from the absurd back over to the ridiculous. A hundred years ago, in the 1920’s, an androgynous style—flat chest and slim hips was popular.  By the 1940’s, hip pads and the “bullet bra” (making breasts resemble twin torpedoes) made for a highly stylized “womanly” figure. By the 1960’s, we were favoring the “barely there” bras.  Ten years later, in the 1970’s we got smart and burned them altogether, deciding to use exercise not underwear to reconfigure the body.

Now we have bust pads and Cutlets. Cutlets are little silicone things, the shape of a push up pad (or a chicken cutlet, hence the name) that you put in your bra to add cleavage.

Prudence thinks there is no sense in adding in what God has left out but I disagree. I once invested in a set of “cutlets,” which you can get from any CVS or pharmacy.  That was when I lived in an extremely COLD house.  It was winter and I wanted to wear said cutlets to a formal event.  When I pulled them out of my lingerie drawer, they were frozen rock hard.  Who wants to put that on the tenderest of bare skin? I put them on the radiator to thaw, got distracted, and forgot about them.  When my then husband found them (locating them by means of an unusual smell) they had scorch-lines across them like genuine grilled chicken breasts. “I think these are fully cooked” he said. “Thank you,” I said, tucking them into my bra with as much aplomb as I could muster.

It’s hard to make small-talk at a social gathering with Vanity in the form of charred silicone sticking to one’s chest but I managed.  It took me a few more years to realize that Beauty is more in how we radiate the Light of loving who we are, loving what we do, and loving and connecting to the people we are Listening to and serving, rather than anything we can stuff, tape, or tie to our bodies.

 “Fake it til you make it” is one of those obnoxiously chipper little memes that pops up continually in “pop” psychology and encourages us to be “ourselves, only better…” through the use of blatant, cheery deceit. I’m all for bettering myself, sure—but the idea of “faking” it is a fraught one on many levels and starts with the premise that we are “Not Enough.”  But sometimes Faking it, if only for a while, offers us a useful crutch --a way to begin.  If a hunk of foam rubber makes your dress fit better and that gives you more Confidence, then go for it.  It’s the Confidence that is sexy…NOT the foam rubber.

Don't pretend to be anything or anyone -- simply take action to Enable Joy.  It’s not warm just because one chooses to wear shorts; we don’t have any less work to do when we choose to smile and be kind—but it helps. It helps a lot.  Authenticity takes a variety of forms: Do one small brave thing, and then next one will be easier, and soon Joy will flow and morale will improve.  Sometimes we smile, not because we are Happy, but because we are Strong and that’s as good a reason to smile as any.  With regard to Spring Weather, Good Cheer, and Bust-sizes we need all the help we can get!

Be well, my darlings!  Be Warm and Brave and do Good Work!

Yours aye,

Nancy

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Holy Week

Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.” Charles Dickens 


Greetings My Lovelies!

Forgive my more-than-usually-disjointed ravings this week—I’m a little revved up on 75% off Cadbury’s Crème Eggs and what I think might be glitter poisoning…

Last week was quite an intense week on many levels.  For one, I truly appreciate and am deeply humbled by the number of kind-hearted souls who took the time to write encouraging notes congratulating me for showing up to write this blog for fifty-two weeks in a row.   I know it wasn’t always pretty—sometimes it was more street-fight than ballet—but I put myself out there and got roughed up and dirty and it felt really good to pause and celebrate surviving that.  I had planned to slap myself on the back, eat a truly revolting amount of chocolate, and totally slack off for a while but no… Thanks a lot! Because of helpful busybodies like them and all that residual “catholic guilt” from childhood, I now feel like I can’t stop.   So! On we plod…to glory, glitter, or the grave.  Who can tell?

The number of Prom gowns has reached the triple digits in the shop.  I am bobbing on a tide of tulle and lace, trying not to swallow too much glitter.  I keep losing my thimble, my scissors, and large portions of my sanity.   I’ll be so happy if we aren’t all bald with a twitch by June. I haven’t glimpsed my co-workers for days in the multi-colored forest that hangs from every rack and hook and spare bit of ceiling. The phone is ringing off the hook with teenagers who have never made a phone call to a live human being before: “yeah…um…I have like…um…I’m going to a…well, I need a dress that needs to get made, um… like, shorter maybe? Is that something you do?”  They might prefer to text but we can’t answer those because our hands are busy.  At least they are calling for themselves, not having their mothers do it for them.  Prudence thinks that any girl old enough to go to Prom is old enough to sort out her own schedule and the intricacies of getting a gown fitting in between cheerleading practice and student senate meetings. Fifty percent of the girls who don’t phone ahead, who just walk in the door with dresses the size of a bale of hay, have completely forgotten to bring their shoes. (Hint: we don’t know how short to make these dresses if you aren’t wearing your shoes! Offering to stand on tip-toes does not count!) For some reason, the fashion this year is to have gowns with skirts big enough to slip-cover a Volkswagon.   Some of them have as many as seven layers with the average layer being nine yards around with a least one four-inch bit of plastic horsehair braid around a layer—sometimes three.  “I don’t understand why this hem was so expensive,” says one mother, “after-all, it only had to come up a little bit.”  Yes, mutters Prudence, but that “little bit” had to come up all the way round, you daft woman, and it took a whole day!  It’s like watching a drunk trying to make it home on a Saturday night—it’s not the length of the road he has to stumble—it’s the width that really wears him out.  

For every two gowns we complete, another four come in.  The first prom is this Saturday, April 27th and they carry on every weekend until June 15th.  There are three or four different local schools all sharing the same date of May 18th so that seems to be the high water mark to hit.  In addition, we are still mending zippers, hemming trousers, and (up until Saturday) repairing adult-sized Bunny costumes.

A girls walks in with a gown. “Did you call for an appointment?” asks my friend.

“Oh,” she says hesitantly. “No…”

“It’s just that we can’t take any more gowns for May 3rd,” she explains.  “We are totally swamped and we want to be able to give everyone they best service we can so we have to say no to the May 3rd now, in order to get all the other May 3rds out of here.”

She says it as warmly and kindly as she can but the girl just meets her with a confused, blank stare.   My friend tries another tack: “When is your prom, honey?  Is it May 3rd?”

A light seems to switch on in the girl and she beams. “Oh!” She says brightly, “No, it’s not!” and heads for the dressing room.

“When is it?” I ask.

“Not until April 27th!” the girl announces cheerfully over her shoulder.

A man calls, wanting to know if we can hem his pants. “Yes,” we say, “Of course, just drop them off—give us a week to ten days.”

“WHAT?!” he barks.  “A Week? But I need them for Sunday!” (It’s Thursday.)

“Can you bring them right over now?” we ask.

“NO! I can’t do that!” he says, “I’ve got too many things to do today…I can’t get there until Saturday.”

“Just bring them,” we tell him with a sigh.

Saturday comes.  We are only open for three hours but more happens in those three hours than sometimes happens all week.  For one thing, the parking lot is always full when I arrive because people think we open at 9 and we open at 10 on Saturdays, so many have been in their cars, on their phones for the past 30 minutes before we unlock the door.  Their mouths are all making the same thin, peculiar line as they simultaneously grit their teeth and smile.  Their eyes are as hard as stale jelly beans. This is just one of their many stops and their errands are now all behind schedule.

Within three minutes, we have four people texting in the waiting area and two people roaming the shop putting their items on the work tables, the main desk, anywhere except the counter where we write up new work.  There is a bride in the dressing room who says she doesn’t like the way the top of her strapless dress is standing out so far away from her boobs.  “These look like boobies on the half shell,” she whines. We give her some body tape but instead of having it pull the dress in towards the body, it pulls the boobs out to the dress, so they resemble pale beige chewing gum stuck to a shoe. I can’t figure out how to solve this problem because the phone is ringing again and a woman in flip-flops with what appears to be a 3-litre container of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee (now half empty) is wondering if we have a bathroom.  In storms Mr. Thursday, wanting his pants hemmed while he waits.

I look at the pants he hands me.  The tags are still on them.  These are very well-made, high-end trousers from a reputable men’s shop that went out of business in JANUARY.  I can tell from the number of mark-downs on the price tag that he got them in the final days of the close-out sale.  “How long have you had these pants?” I want to ask him.  

“I need these for Easter,” he shrugs.  Prudence fumes. She’s all for people dressing nicely for Easter, or any occasion for that matter, but the notion that this man has to have this pair and no other, pants he’s owned for at least 15 of the previous Saturdays,  to celebrate the Joy of the Risen Christ seems absurd.  What else is in his closet? Would he have to run naked otherwise? What has he been wearing since January? Prudence suspects that he has NOT worn out all his other trousers by kneeling in hard pews at church or doing Penance.  She’s not even sure This Pair is destined to see a church.  More likely, he needs his mother and aunties to think he went to church before he tucks himself into their baked ham, ricotta pies, and ethnic cookies.  “Bona Pasqua!” he shouts as he exits the shop.  “Bona Pasqua!” answers my co-worker in Italian, though both of them are clearly American.  Prudence, invisibly, gives him the finger.  (Now, now, Prudence, shame on you!!!) She would like to point out that there were Other races and creeds celebrating Big Things in their communities too this past week—not one of them rushed us using their Religious Holiday as an excuse to manipulate us into neglecting other customers they deemed less important than themselves.

Thank goodness “Holy week” is over and we are done with the drama of Vernal Christians barging in and demanding we solve their fashion disasters with the urgency of a forest fire. (Whatever happened to knowing them “by their Love,” and not their hemlines?)  On the bright side, at least all the chocolate shaped like bunnies is now half price.  Now that Lent is over, we can wear white again and start the real days of pain and sacrifice…getting ready for swimsuit season!

Be well, my Dearies!  When the chocolate coma clears, listen for the chorus of peepers and the choirs of morning birds—the Music of Spring, the Real Worship—is all around you!  And just in case no one has said it lately, I love you very much.

Your aye,

Nancy

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Happy Blog-iversary!

Greetings Dear ones!

We did it!  We made it a whole year together!  I am so excited and proud of myself and immensely grateful to all of you who continue to read, comment, share, and support. Exactly one year ago, my dear friend Emerald Rae challenged me to drop what I was doing and Make This Happen.  Because, when you have a Dream, that’s when Life is about to Happen. (It’s also when someone lets you know you snore too loudly!)

So! Let’s recap.  Have we learned anything?

Time for another quiz:

1.     You write your very first blog. As per the instructions of your in-house tech-support (which is any resident under the age of 32) you manage to get it to “publish” without having to call a variety of hot-lines, break the internet, or speak directly to anyone in Asia. You then immediately:

a.      Feel sick, think “what have I just done?!” and need to lie down.

b.     Get up and go to your “real job” and try to behave normally.

c.      Step in dog poop because someone didn’t let the dog out.

d.     All of the above.

2.     When your loving and supportive friends read your first entry, their responses are, conveyed as kindly as possible:

a.      To express concern that you will never keep up the quality of writing or storytelling because there is “just not that much to write about with sewing.”

b.     To write you long emails, worrying that your intention is to make body-shaming the purpose of your literary endeavours.

c.      To remark that your writing is “self-indulgent,” “shallow,” and that you are “worthy of better things.”

d.     All of the above.

3.     After you ugly-cry yourself into a snot-snuffling mess, feeling totally unworthy, untalented, inept… you then:

a.      Watch inspiring Ted talks and recite affirmations until the urge to guzzle scotch directly from the bottle passes.

b.     Decide to buy a Celtic harp, for no reason what-so-ever

c.      Say, “F**k it.  Who cares what they say? I know who I am.  I know my intentions are kind. If I run out of stories, sure, I’ll quit. And yes, damn it, I AM Self-indulgent.  So what? I have teenagers, incontinent pets, and a Vitamin D deficiency. Who the hell ELSE is going to indulge me?”

d.     All of the Above.

4.     You find the harp is extremely good for

a.      Practicing scales and discovering that all the F strings and C strings are the colored ones. (This only takes a five days to figure out!)

b.     Distracting you from doing other Things You Should Be Doing, like sewing 62 snaps on an airline stewardess’s blouses.

c.      Holding laundry that’s too dirty to go back in the drawer and too clean to go in the wash.

d.     All of the Above

5.     When more of your friends say lovely, kindly, complimentary things to you praising your efforts, you:

a.      Try to believe them but still feel the need to eat a quart of Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” ice cream to cheer up anyway.

b.     Lapse into fantasies of trying to write something “better” next week

c.      Ignore them because you have a dead sheep in your garage that needs burying and you don’t have time to dwell on your insecurities.

d.     All of the Above

6.     We each manifest, with our own time, unconscious intentions, and energies the Universe of our choosing. In some Worlds:

a.      All the clothes fit, the socks match, and the cars run

b.     All there is to do is watch T.V.

c.      Infant farm animals are using the living room couch as a playground

d.     (Guess which two worlds are totally incomprehensible to me)

7.     When you say YES to Life, to doing fifty things that make you more “you” because you just turned 50 and it seems like as good a time as any to start such nonsense, things will happen like:

a.      You might find two lambs bouncing around your cottage in the woods, getting tangled up in yarn from your spinning wheels until one lamb manages to drag about forty feet of yarn off a spindle and knit all your furniture together in a giant cobweb before she falls over, giggling and kicking her hind leg.

b.      People you never suspected will turn out to be amazing friends and co-conspirators.

c.       There will definitely be More Poo.

d.     All of the Above

8.     Choosing to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone

a.      Will be really fun and wild and exciting at times

b.     Will make you feel like you move forward like an amoeba

c.      Will make you look like a total loon

d.     All of the Above

9.     This blog is in desperate need of

a.      Better editing

b.     More quizzes

c.      Cash prizes

d.     All of the above

10.    In my stories, to protect the Insolent, I always change:

a.      The customer’s physical description

b.     The customer’s garment

c.      Everything except the core “kernel” of the story

d.     All of the above

11.    This is because

a.      I protect and cherish my customers and sincerely wish for their happiness and satisfaction

b.     I want to poke fun at Ideas, not individuals

c.      I have enough angry people coming in snorting fire about bloody hems coming down—I don’t want an influx of irate customers who don’t like how they look in print any more than they don’t like how they look in the mirror.

d.     All of the Above

12.    I write:

a.      Whenever inspiration strikes—whenever  a story pops it’s head around the corner to see if I can hem a “quick pair of trousers” before closing time

b.     When I am supposed to be doing other, more Useful things like cooking supper, cleaning the house, or interrogating the residents to see who left that laundry in the washer until it grew fur

c.      At 4:44 am, in a bleary, sleep-deprived, last-minute frazzle

d.     All of the above

13.   If I have learned anything yet in my short fifty years, it’s that:

a.      Pretending I can sew/dance/cook/play music/write is a hell of a lot more fun than pretending I can’t.  

b.     Sometimes we are going to fall and make fools of ourselves and that’s ok as long as we learn from it and apologize to those we hurt when we crash.

c.      The yellow jellybeans really do taste like vomit.

d.     All of the Above.

14.     Sewing has taught me:

a.      I should have paid more attention in Math class

b.     The left side NEVER comes out like the right

c.      I have to take all the pins out of my padded bra before I go grocery shopping.

d.     All of the above

15.     Working with the general public has taught me:

a.      People are Amazing, Fantastic and Inspiring

b.     Sometimes they are Nice

c.      I totally hate people and prefer the company of animals

d.     All of the above

16.    The people who have been my Best Supporters are

a.      Veterinarians (hands down)

b.     Believers who operate through (any) Faith, not Fear—the Musicians & Dancers, Artists & Riskers, Darers, Doers & Dreamers, who bring incredible beauty, insight, and Love to the world through their practices and sacrifices. 

c.      My children and honorary “spirit children” who come into my life to offer tech support and teach me valuable lessons like LOL means “laugh out loud,” not “Lots of Love” (I still think it should mean the latter!!!)

d.     All of the Above.  I am indescribably grateful to you all!!

17.     Completing a whole year, despite all the things a Tuesday night ever threw at me—power outages, illness, escaped reptiles…. Feels like:

a.      A Victory! A tribute to dedication, perseverance, and sheer bloody-mindedness.

b.     Like an elephant, or a bicycle, eaten one bite at a time. (Burp)

c.       An exhausted marathoner limping towards the finish line with blisters, farts he can’t trust, and a pulled Achilles tendon.

d.     All of the Above

18.    This mile-marker means

a.       I can eat all the cookies I want today

b.      I just kept a big promise to myself.  I’m proud of that.

c.       I kind of want to slack off now…but I worry that it will be like when I decide to stop running for “a few weeks” in November and don’t start back up until April.

d.     All of the above

19.    My goals going forward are to:

a.        Keep taking one day/week/month/year/Life at a time.

b.      Create more opportunities for writing

c.       Vacuum more often

d.     All of the Above

20.    Hey!  If I could pull this off—if I could stick to a plan and hack away at it, bit by bit, usually at the very last minute but still getting it done,

a.      Anybody can

b.     Even people with an abundance of Dung in their lives

c.      You can too

d.     All of the Above

Scoring:

If you answered “A” to anything, anything at all, you my friend, are an Optimist.  Bless your loving heart.  Don’t EVER take off those rose-colored spectacles!  This world needs dreamers like you—who wake up ready to play, ready to dream, ready to create and willingly perceive the Joy and Abundance that surrounds them—who exult in the Possible. You are my Favorite kind of people.

If you answered “B” to any of the questions, you are fairly realistic. Like the majority of our customers, you want things done Yesterday but will settle for next Saturday and not complain too much as long as the work is done well.  You are my Favorite kind of people.

If you answered “C” to any of the questions, well, it just shows that you were too impatient to read all the way to “D.”  You are one of Hell’s tourists who fears the worst of everything.  Like Prudence, you are always available to mention “I could have told you that” even though you didn’t.  You are the experts we need to keep us safe, who make us check the “sell by” dates on yoghurt.  You are well-meaning but a little crochety. You are my favorite kind of people.

If you answered “D” (All of the Above) to everything, you are very special indeed. You are my Favorite kind of people!  You appreciate nuances of Wholeness, Balance, symmetry and that there are at least three sides to everything.  You know that more than one thing can be true when we are talking about Ourselves.  To be Whole is to invite and include Everything. We are Magnificent AND Horrid.  And oh, SO funny at times.

Prudence wishes I had done better.  She wishes the entries were shorter, funnier, more high-falutin and literary as well as more down to earth and less pretentious; more universal, less personal; more Profound (as in a Pro who is Found) rather than Lost… But here we are—soft and shattered—trying to tie everything up in a neat little bow with a few pins in it, here and there, to keep it in place.  The answer to every question is D.  Yay! We get a D+.  We have NOT failed.  D stands for: Dare Determined, Dark Daily Dance, Danger Defended, Dawn Development, Depth Delight, Depression Described, Desire Deserved, Diversity Devoted, Drivel Drafted, Doubts Destroyed… (don’t forget Diarrhea…) And best of all… DONE!  (My favorite!)

 Thank you, Dear Ones, for taking this journey with me.  I am profoundly grateful for the chance to share. I began the blog with a prayer.  I would like to close out this first year with a blessing:

May the year ahead be better still. 

May we be bright as Buttons, warm as flannel, fun as polka-dots, and sturdy as Tweed.

May our little rips and tears be where we tailor our coats and lives to fit us even better. 

May we piece things together with patience, humor and kindness.

May we do Whatever It Takes to be our Best Selves…

And when our work is done, may we look back and be Satisfied that we did our very best.

Yours Aye,

Nancy

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Getting in Tune

“There is nothing more to be said or done tonight, so hand me over my violin and let us try to forget for half an hour the miserable weather and the still more miserable ways of our fellowmen.” — Arthur Conan Doyle

Dawn is coming and the Enchanted Forest is getting yet another glazing of snowishly crusty “stuff”! After a golden evening of gardening and discovering sleepy crocuses and daffodils, as unwilling to rise and shine as surly teenagers from beneath their duvets of dead leaves, I can hardly believe it.  Will the warmth ever inhabit the light again? This watery light lacks the heat to melt the ice lingering along the margins of this muddy, exhausted looking landscape. My little lambs, who don’t know anything different, frolic and delight themselves with springing on stiff legs across the yard, playing chase with a leaf and doing complicated jumps off the front steps that would make a skateboarder proud.  They giggle and wriggle and fling themselves in all directions at once as if they had ants in their black wooly pants.

You would think Spring (a peppy little word that accurately describes the lambs but not what New Englander’s call The Time of Mud) would bring out the Best in people, as it does other creatures—with its weddings, proms, fancy dress banquets and galas—but no.  With so much celebration approaching, each customer comes in grumpier and in more of a hurry than the last.  I have found that true New Englanders can cope with grim, hard winters that last eleven months; they can survive on nothing but bread and milk and NPR for weeks on end but they get all pissy when they have to take off their snow gear and don a proper suit, bare their arms, or attend any occasion that requires them to eat petits fours while wearing Spanx.

Because I really cannot abide grumpiness for very long and because my life is my own damn fairytale and I can change the story any time I want, I decide to magically turn all the customers into musical instruments and instantly restore humor and harmony to my little corner of the world.

A tin-whistle telephones. Her daughter has been jilted by her date—do they still have to pay for their alterations, since they no longer need the dress? An English horn rings, her daughter is not yet sure if her date is planning to take her or his ex-girlfriend.  The mother, unsure of how this drama will play out, wants to know over the ‘phone, how much it will be to hem the dress at the last minute, in case her daughter, the understudy, gets called in for the starring role on prom night. She doesn’t want to “waste the money” to get her daughter’s dress fixed if the girl is just going to stay home.

A bellicose Tuba charges in, wanting to know why we haven’t called him about his pants. “Well, sir, it’s Prom Season…we have a FOREST of gowns in here to chop down one by one and you said you were not in a hurry so...”

“Yes,” he honks angrily, turning pink, “but that was two days ago!”  I briefly consider changing him to Timpany, since Timing seems so important to him even though he hasn’t a clue how it works.  He marches, huffing and tutting, out the back of the shop and brushes past a tiny little piccolo and a family of woodwinds trying to reach the bell so they can be let in the back door.  The little piccolo gets dressed up in her frock for Easter, which is far too big for her while her sister woodwinds busy themselves with rearranging pins in the pin cushions. (“See,” says Prudence knowingly, “your grandmother was right.  Children don’t need toys. They are having way more fun with a pin cushion than those wretched things called ‘Hatchimals.’”)  After the woodwinds’ peaceful departure, in comes a dear little pedal Harp.  She just had her 100th birthday and she wants us to find a way to accommodate her long underwear under her blouse so that it doesn’t show at her great-grandson’s wedding in July.

While she is still in the dressing room, a Bassoon comes in to ask if we have a “rest room.”  Prudence archly wants to know if he is really going in there to “rest” or if his more accurate intentions are to tinkle all over the seat then leave it up.  He returns after a brief absence (during which we do not hear the water running in the sink) to enquire if we can add a third button to a suit jacket that has only two.  I get excited because I love doing buttonholes by hand. There is something about getting a row of tiny knots to lie down next to each other and Behave that never loses its thrill for me.

“Can you believe it? This is my first suit I’ve had since I made my first Communion!”  The Bassoon stands there double-reeded in his single-breasted suit, a column of air, vibrating and producing sound, as we pin him and organize the fabric around his shoulders, chest, and back. “I’m over sixty and I’ve lived my whole life without needing a suit.  I wouldn’t get one now either, ‘cept my daughter’s getting married and she wants it to be fancy.  She says I have to have a suit.”

All day long, the parade continues—clarinets and trombones, trumpets, kazoos and kettle drums.  A sweet, little round French horn comes in to ask if we can custom-make little round sheets for his little round bed.  It is a “perfeck round bed,” he says, “right in zee middle of zee room, where one can appreciate it from any angle.”  He wants a round duvet and cover too. He is hoping to make it nice so he can lure some little round females there to keep him company.  With his heavy French accent and his Inspector Clouseau mustache, he is almost adorable.  (We decide to ignore his comments about enticing women.) “Where does one put the pillows on a round bed?” I want to know.  For some reason, my innocence irritates him and his tone shifts suddenly from mellow, seductive metallic to brassy, forte: “Anywhere you Want, damnit!  Anywhere you want! Zey sheeft wis you ven you move…  I sleep like dis” (he indicates with his hand vertical, rotating in sharp, staccato clicks) like a Sundial all night!”  I can just see his Tinder profile now… “seeking fellow sundial to share round bed—only the clockwise need respond…”

 I am still thinking about music at the end of the day, as I make my drive home.  When I arrive, there is a banjo in his mid thirties who is leaking badly and needs to talk.  He is having a crisis at home.  He is worried that his wife is ready to walk out on him and the little harmonicas.  There is no harmony.  He does not know what to do. 

“What kind of music are you trying to play?” I ask.

“I’m not sure,” he shakes his head ruefully, “I’m afraid there isn’t a musical bone in my body,” he sighs.

“Well, that’s just crap,” I say in a businesslike tone.  “Everyone’s bones are musical.  One of my favorite dance partners of all time is stone deaf and just ‘feels’ the music through his bones.  He keeps perfect time, just by connecting to the beat through the floorboards and watching the musicians on stage. He senses it perfectly though he’s never heard a single note. Music is everywhere, even if you can’t hear it.”

The banjo just shrugs.  He looks defeated.  Prudence can tell he needs a stern talking to and possibly some scones and tea.

“The reason I ask, is that my answer to ‘what you should do’ has a bunch of layers.  Firstly, it’s not for me to heap “shoulds” upon you but to point out that you have some wonderful opportunities here! If you want to reestablish harmony with your wife, you both need to get in tune before you can start trying to share a melody.  Someone can be out of tune because their instrument needs tuning—their strings are out or their sound-post or bridge needs adjusting. So, first you need to make sure the physical instrument is ready to play.  Your four strings are diet, exercise, sleep, and eliminating vices. Do those things first.  Tune your body. 

The next reason a player is out of tune is because his fingers don’t know what they are doing.  You need to teach them scales and exercises and simple tunes.  You need to practice.  DAILY. You will quickly find that fingers are an unruly mob of insolent and disobedient rabble. This is because they need a leader. You need to tune your Mind. Listen hard to the Best Music. Listen every day, as much as you can.  A lot of people think because they have music on constantly that they are listening to it.  They are not.  They are actually tuning it out and ignoring it.

Sit with it in your own silence and Pay Attention at the deepest levels. Listen. Your ears will teach your brain, your brain will teach your fingers, your fingers will reveal all the beauty in your heart.  I don’t care which Prophet you choose—whether it’s Alasdair Fraser or Yo-Yo Ma or Rumi or that rock star, Buddha. Pick one and Study faithfully. Devote yourself.

STOP pointing out how out of tune your wife is.  This does no one any good.  You can only tune you. So do that.  She will have to decide for herself what kind of music she wishes to play in her one short, precious life.  Meanwhile, you will be a lot more fun to play with when you are in tune and sounding great.

Here’s the thing about music.  To be good at it, you have to be willing to be bad at it—for a Very Long Time.  Finding love in the hardest of situations is part of what we all come here to do so forget about how hard it is and look for the love of it. You need to be realistic about how bad you are and do something about it but you also have to love the journey and yourself.  Loving yourself is what makes you realize you could be amazing with a little work, that you are Worth that work. It’s called practice.  And Discipline. No one wants to play with someone who never practices and never improves. One of the beautiful ironies about bringing music to the world is that you need to spend a lot of time alone before you can play with others. You can’t just keep showing up at congregations, jam sessions, or synagogues and going through the motions as if you know what you are doing. You don’t. Don’t think you must only ever play alone either! Playing solo only is not healthy. Music is a language.  It is meant to be shared, to communicate—to commune, to community-ify, to make Common.  

Music is fundamentally organized by Silence. The duration of each mini silence between the sounding of each note, along with the duration of each note, is what gives us our sense of timing. One must honor the Silences as equally as one honors the notes, in order to stay in time. You cannot just run all the right notes together, even if they are in the right order, and expect it to sound like anything. So meditate. Befriend Silence.

If you really know someone, you already know what tunes he or she knows too and you remember to play them when you are together. You don’t get complex and show off for too long—you create community by including the lowest level players.  Love is a Music that Includes.

Your pain now is your future blessing. It’s a signal that you are on the Right path to fearlessly create more of everything that makes your heart sing.  Everything is going to totally suck for a little while and that’s ok. It’s necessary even.

Of course, I couldn’t exactly say ALL of that to the weeping banjo.  But I wanted to. So I’ve said it here, to you, my darlings.  Remember, Life is a Symphony! (Or a slow jam!) We each have a responsibility to get ourselves in tune!  Let’s work on our chops and PLAY, PLAY, PLAY!

May you find your harmony today and do all kinds of Good Work!

With so much love…

Yours aye,

Nancy

 

 

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Snowplows and Slackers

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”  --Harry S. Truman, 33rd President

 Greetings Dear Ones!

It’s 1:am as I begin to write this.  I have been lying here in my bed, gritting my teeth through guided meditations designed to put me into a deep sleep, but I feel like something is trying to pry my chest open with a rib spreader instead, so it can grab my heart with bare hands.  I don’t know how I will be able to see to thread a needle tomorrow, through these hot, salty, puffy little eyes of mine. The son and heir, who forever leaves the seat of his throne Up (grrr), who festoons his room with wet towels draped like Christmas garlands, who plays music until all hours of the day and night and eats his weight in cereal between meals…this BOY phoned tonight to say that he is moving out!   After nearly nineteen trips around the sun, this man-ling is old enough to vote and work and pay taxes (and therefore swear). (We have a rule that you are not allowed to cuss unless you pay taxes.)  In the eyes of the law, he is a man.  He has a job and now a rented room in Boston and he is off to continue his adventures as a Musician and a Seeker in the lands beyond the Enchanted Forest and his mother’s endless nagging that is like a church bell defining a parish.

I lie here thinking dizzily about how quickly my little nest has emptied and how swiftly flew Childhood.  The moments were long but the years are a blur made fuzzier now with tears. I think about what kind of parent I have been and how that matches up against the parent I wish I had been.  

I see other mothers with their children on a daily basis in the shop.  I see your classic stereotypes—the neurotic dance mom, the “tiger” mom, the helicopter moms hovering anxiously outside the dressing room door in case “darling” might need them…Apparently, there is a new kind of parent called the “Snowplow” parent.  It makes total sense to me that in New England half the country-folk are out plowing during every snowstorm (it’s actually snowing here right now!) and they probably have kids… Then I found out that “Snowplow parenting” has nothing to do with snow; it’s when the parent tries to remove or clear all on-coming (character-building) obstacles from the path of the child.  These kinds of parents have been the focus of a scandal that has been in the news a lot recently.

This kind of news just depresses me and highlights more than ever what a Slacker I have been as a parent. I had no idea we could bribe our way into prestigious universities and sports teams! (Whaaat?? Fetch my cheque book!)  Instead, there was I, hunched over in 1920’s stadium seating, knitting socks as my kids thrashed their way—kind of drowning in forward motion—up the length of a murky pool at swimteam practice every night for years, in the hopes that… what? That they could be strong? That they could get swimming scholarships one day? No.  In the hopes that they would be too exhausted to bicker and might go to bed earlier with less fuss.  When the little one got in the car and threw up a belly full of green pool water, saying he didn’t know what to do with the water when it came in his mouth so he just glugged it down as he swam (basically swimming as fast as he could swallow, poor sod), I yelled at him to throw up outside, and not on the floor of the car. (I ask you, what kind of witch yells at a child who is throwing up?) Not that we could see the floor of the car.  I drove a mini-van so messy and filled with food scraps that if it had had a sunroof, sea gulls would have followed us like it was a shrimp boat. I wasn’t a Tiger, a helicopter, or a snowplow. I was a SLACKER mom.  You might be tempted to confuse me with those mothers called “Free Range” mothers—who let their children out to graze on bugs and grass and lay their eggs in the yard.  No.  I wanted to be a Tigress flying a helicopter with a plow on each end.  The truth is I was just too tired and ultimately too lazy to pull it off.  Those women look like exciting mothers—mummifying chickens for their child’s project on Ancient Egypt, and getting them up early to do math games on weekends. Where were my children? Living in a cardboard box version of shanty town under the dining table. The main box, which had once contained a new appliance, later became a pirate ship that clogged our hallway for years. The “sea” around it was a piece of fabric that they could swim under with less difficulty than real water, bless their hearts.

_______________________

 In the shop, each prom gown is bigger than the last. They take hours to hem, even by machine.  We have close to fifty on the racks waiting to be altered. I got two gowns done yesterday, while four more came in.  Some have as much as a nine yard circumference. There is a turquoise one that would make a great sea for a cardboard pirate ship.  It belongs to a young girl with so much aplomb she should be running for office any day now.  She is good at organizing her mother who I suspect, like me, of being a Slacker.

Another mother comes in and wants to pick her daughter’s dress up early, before it is finished, so she can have a fitting at home. “I don’t want her to flip out in front of you if this is not what she wanted.  I want her to flip out at home where I won’t have to be embarrassed in public. You know how she is…” says the mother, in conspiratorial tones and rolling her eyes with dramatic flair. She is a Snowplow who seems intent on pushing her daughter under the nearest bus.  Prudence has diagnosed this daughter before: “She caught a mild case of CLB (Cheeky Little Brat) when she was very young. It’s a perfectly routine, fairly innocuous childhood malady that usually gets better with a few mild corrections and redirection.  Unfortunately, this case went totally untreated, like Lyme disease of the Soul, and has progressed into a full-blown, possibly terminal case of PPS (Pampered Princess Syndrome.)”  The mother is terrified of the monster she has created and she wants us all to fear it too. I refuse.  She’s a perfectly civil and polite young lady when she has to be and she will probably do a fine job of parenting herself in a few years when she enters the Real World, leaves the shadow of the Snowplow, and learns these simple things:

We don’t always get what we Want in life; we get what we Are.

People are either accusative or inquisitive. (We humans like one of these kinds much more so than the other.)

Lots of people have more of and better than you do. (Just as many have less of and worse than too.) The battle is not about circumstances.  People go to war over circumstances when the battle is really about the Mind, the Will, the Heart. What do you Believe in? Go there. Do THAT.  The circumstances around it are, as this seamstress sees it, “im-Material.”

 We are short-staffed this month as one of our three best workers is in Alaska for a family wedding. We need help. We ask people we know who like to sew if they would consider doing some work in the shop. “Oh. No!” They say, “I could never work on other people’s clothes! What if I messed something up?  I could never forgive myself!” Being a seamstress, it seems, takes a lot of courage.  Does it take more than average courage? No.  Hardly not.  Mending a pair of pants that have come in after being triaged in the field (the crotch was sewn together with dental floss), while thrilling work, hardly equates to rushing into burning buildings to save kittens. But pretty much all the things we humans do require Courage, the willingness to fail our way to success, and the self-compassion to forgive ourselves when we accidentally cut the pants two inches too short because we cut at the “finished edge” line and not the cutting line, especially if we did it to all nine pairs of pants at once. (Yipe!)

Please understand, I’m not judging anyone’s parenting style here.  Different children may require different styles.  Just like in clothing, one size does NOT fit all! But somehow, we need to raise children who have Courage—the Courage to Show up, the Courage to Speak up, and when the moment requires, the courage to chop into a vintage wedding gown without a pattern.

 I think we could go far if our kids were endowed with both Courage (a word whose Latin origin means “heart”) and Imagination—the mind’s ability to “image” or picture what is not present.  Strong Hearts, Strong Minds, Strong Bodies.  Not one of them is made in Comfort:  Discomfort, Disappointment—these are fundamental requirements. Letting our kids deal with their own discomfort is uncomfortable for US.  We abhor witnessing pain. As Prudence says, “We all want to get to Heaven but none of us wants to die.” We, who cannot let our children experience Difficulties fully, on their own terms, are weenies. That’s the truth.  We do them a great disservice. When we free a butterfly from its chrysalis, we avert the struggle it needs to force blood into its own wings so it can fly.  We cripple it.

 So, how do we, who wish we were over-achievers, stop from making our kids into trophies we give to ourselves? How do we do the NOT-doing that needs to be done? Benevolent neglect. Boredom. No Screen time.  One of the best things my parents ever did was not buy me and my sisters everything for our Barbies and dollhouses. We became creators, not collectors. We learned to look at things with imagination. We made our own furniture and doll bedding out of scraps and cardboard. Yes, it looked like hell. We did not care.  (Ok, we cared.) We felt deprived and desperate—which made us try harder and get Creative with things like Kleenex and tape, dental floss and markers.  I’m not certain that MacGyvor ever played with Barbies—Maybe he did. If so, I’m sure he is the better for it because playing like we did, without parental intervention, taught us that Everything Required is always present. If it is not present, it’s not required. I’m convinced that every skill I have today can be traced back to “needing” something for my dollhouse that my own Slacker Parents did not provide so I had to call it into being through my own patient ingenuity, trial and error.  

The Best things I have ever done have been the Hardest, at every age.  At 32, it was the birth and welcoming home of this astonishing and magical boy. At 51, it’s letting him go… I truly believe that our children will never be defeated by what others say about them. They can only be defeated by what they say about themselves. Their triumphs can only be genuine if their challenges were too.  I’m full of angst about the poison in the world and all the troubles that await him but he is champing at the bit and ready to jump like a stiff-kneed lamb off the biggest little rock he can find.  He wants to test himself, to prove himself. I am so fiercely proud of him. He’s borne and traded many a scrape for dignity and maturity already.  His future Triumphs await. I can only hope I have neglected him enough.

 Slack on, fellow Slackers! 

Yours aye, with love and admiration,

Nancy

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