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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Let's NOT grow up...

“The most sophisticated people I know—inside they are all children.”–Jim Henson

Greetings my Dear Ones!

I woke up nine years old today. I can tell because I looked at the cap on the toothpaste and thought “this would make a fantastic little planter for my doll house when the toothpaste runs out.  A dab of glue and some moss and dried baby’s breath colored with markers and it will be a perfect little pot of flowers!” and I felt a happy, innocent kind of joy in my heart.  There was a two-week-old Shetland lamb running around the bathroom too, which made me giggle, and I’m pretty sure Most real grown-ups would have frowned at that. I often think I have absolutely nothing in common with grown-ups!  

 Driving through the tunnel of trees lining the road on my way to work, the morning light flickering through the tree trunks makes the scene before me click like I am in one of those old-fashioned home videos that is skipping.  I hope I don’t have to grow up too quickly today!  I get to the shop and my friend announces “Today, we are Diesel Fitters.” “What?” I say, confused. She holds up a pair of jeans and says “Deeze ‘ll Fit ‘er!”  We both laugh and I sigh with relief.  Growing up can be postponed.  I pick up my needle and thread and continue daydreaming about plans for my doll house. 

Prudence shows up just in time to ruin everything when we see the first prom gown of the morning.  I attempt to continue the balancing act of appreciating the absurd and having heart-touched contemplation as I gaze at the sight before me. I note that throughout history, women worked so hard for permission to reveal an ankle, an elbow…but taken to extremes, we now have things like Lulu Lemon yoga pants and prom gowns such as this one…It’s a cross between a swimsuit and a beach tent. The top is little more than a bra; the bottom has enough glittery fabric to hide a Shetland pony.  “Did gravity pull nine yards of fabric to the bottom of this dress?” asks Prudence. “What the hell?”

“What do you think this needs?” asks the girl, pulling at her straps and trying to make the bra part even smaller.

“It needs a COAT” snaps Prudence. “A cape, a shawl, a large blanket! Anything to stop you looking like one of those half-naked dolls one shoves into a cake. You look like half a girl embedded in Glitter Mountain for pity’s sake!”

The phone starts ringing off the hook.  A series of customers coming and going disrupts all momentum on our projects and I realize that I am no longer full of creativity and joy.  I am now just waiting for lunch, like a pack animal.

We all brighten considerably when a little four-year-old comes in with her mother, who is to be fitted for a wedding gown.  (The mother is being fitted; not the four-year-old!)  The four-year-old is picking her nose, singing little songs, and talking to the pictures in her book.  Her delightful prattle is like sunshine. When she sees her mother in her beautiful gown and we ask her if she looks like a princess, she smiles shyly and climbs the carpeted platform to look at her own self more closely in the mirror.  She likes what she sees. Her tummy is protruding and she makes it stick out further.  She sticks out her tongue and makes funny faces at herself.  Her dark eyes sparkle with pleasure and her curls bob.  Even with her finger up her nose to the second joint, she is just gorgeous.  I am looking at what will someday be a grown woman’s inner child.  She is as precious as a newborn lamb.  I hope she never wants a nose job or a boob job or a dress that diminishes her in any way. I Love her just as she is.  She is fantastic.  The body will lengthen, swell, and age around this spirit and encase it in other flesh, other worries, other beliefs about what is “acceptable.” I shudder to think what she will really “learn” at school.

There is a lot of talk these days (and by “these days” what I really mean is since the 1960’s) about the need to find, heal, engage, and play with our Inner Child. This concerns Prudence deeply.  She does not like children of any kind, except perhaps the ones who are “seen not heard.” (She likes sneaky children, I guess?) When I talk about embracing our inner child, she feels a toe-curling dread that this means I long to roam the family tent with sand in my pants and gritty feet, or go to sleep with mashed potatoes in my hair, clutching a filthy “blankie” that (to me) is a sentient being. Squadron leader Prudence, self-appointed leader of the Anti-Creativity Brigade, swiftly hides all the crayons.  Creativity is messy. And Dangerous!  Watch out!  Children think they can do Anything.  And that is True, until we teach them otherwise.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines Inner Child as “the part of your personality that still reacts and feels like a child.”

“Nonsense!” tuts Prudence, “You only had two children inside of you and you managed to expel them both about twenty years ago…”

A damaged inner child, one who suffered wounds of abuse or neglect, causes a person to be impulsive, narcissistic, dependent, needy, afraid of being abandoned.  They cannot regulate their emotions or act from logic or reason. I remember attending a “Find your Life’s Purpose” workshop at the Kripalu center in Western Mass a few years ago.  The presenter asked us what we did the most when we were nine to twelve years old.  What did we play with? What activities did we most enjoy when we could use our time as we chose, when parents, teachers, coaches and clergy were not involved? Who were we before the world meddled with us and told us we needed to be someone else?  This unfortunate woman looked directly at me and asked me to share my answer with the group.  With unusually bold candor, I informed these concerned strangers that I had spent my time reading things like “Little House on the Prairie” and “Anne of Green Gables,” practicing my penmanship, and fashioning nun’s habits out of toilet paper for the collection of Barbie dolls I shared with my sisters, so we could play “The Sound of Music.”  I also had a Doll house, built for me by my grandfather, that I spent time decorating and dreaming about when I was supposed to be doing my homework. I was obsessed with animals in general—horses, bees, and dolphins in particular.  “Hmmm…” she mused thoughtfully, after the laughter had died away, “tell me about the Barbies again. I’m getting an idea that your life’s purpose is going to involve some sort of blend of spirituality and fashion in some way….”  

“Will there be cookies?” I want to know. “And what about the monsters?”

 When I was a child, I was convinced that the monsters were under the bed.  They are not.  They are inside of us.  And so is that sweet, sacred, innocent child. I am convinced that they need to learn to play nicely together. Including and assimilating the darker parts of ourselves is what gives us Character.  These are powerful, potentially destructive energies we can use to be able to negotiate on our own behalf. These are the sides of us we need to control but they help us to know who we are, what we want, and to be able to communicate it clearly. Otherwise, we will have fascinating, absurd or tragic stories. (Which is ok with me! I LOVE stories!)

Knowing who we are is vital.  So is remembering to tell others who we are.  We had a situation this week where someone texted the personal cell phone of one of my colleagues with the message “Hi. I have an appointment to have my hair and make-up done on Thursday afternoon. Ok to pop by after and try on my gown to get the whole look?”  With seven wedding gowns and over 40 prom gowns in the shop, my friend had no clue who this could be.  She did not recognize the phone number. “Who is this?” she texted back.  There was no reply. The next day, a woman rang the shop phone and said her daughter had been in a total panic, wondering if we had lost her gown and that we don’t know who she is. It turns out that she is one of the brides who assumed she was our only customer.

 There are many different ways to work with your inner child.  To my way of thinking, one cannot underestimate the importance of Benevolent Neglect.  Children need a lot of space to do “nothing.” Here’s how A.A. Milne’s Christopher Robin explains the art of doing Nothing.

"How do you do Nothing," asked Pooh after he had wondered for a long time.
"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, 'What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?' and you say, 'Oh, Nothing,' and then you go and do it.
It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."
"Oh!" said Pooh.”

 “Nothing,” especially when it is done Outside in Nature, is a tremendously rich playground for a child who is otherwise happy and well-fed. They are like little prophets in the desert. I never heard of a prophet who was surrounded by social media and screen technology and had people seeking to exhaust him or her with constant novelty. It’s the trips to the desert of Solitude and Nothing when the prophets gain their creativity, connection, insight, and vision.   They seek the refuge of their own inner beings in the Wilderness.  It is there they find a God who speaks to them.  It’s there that they grow a capacity to see things as other things and Other Things as All One Thing. It is there they find Themselves and realize that Cheerios painted with nail polish make the perfect scale donuts for a doll’s house.

Most of the “adults” I meet on a daily basis are just chronologically old.  Anyone with a bit of luck can manage that! Yes, having a rampaging two-year-old in a forty-five-year-old frame—especially when it has access to a credit card—is no joke. To be truly Adult is to be integrated.  Too many of us feel we need to quarantine our childlike capacity for innocence, wonder, awe and joy along with the monster tantrums. We feel too silly being Silly. Being a psychological adult, not just a chronological one can be ridiculously fun…It means you love your play time AND consider the needs of others. You are responsible and Goofy.  Take a look at Pinterest and Etsy (AFTER you take a walk outside, of course!!)—there is a mind-blowing array of creativity and whimsy out there.  Inner children everywhere are thriving and pouring Beauty into our world.  Make sure you get to play with yours today!  Maybe soon, we can get our dolls together for a tea party in the garden, or wiggle our toes together in the sand box, or turn all our single socks into puppets… the possibilities are endless!

Wishing you much joyful creativity, Good Work, and Good Play today!

Yours aye,

Nancy

 

Lionesses and Lambs

March is like trying to party with a hangover…

Greetings my Dearies!

I received a kind email last week from a reader who said “I would love to see you do a blog about what Spring does to one’s life.” So I decided to act on the suggestion Right Away—partly because I adore mail and am anxious to please, and partly because I haven’t yet thought of a better plan;  I’ve been crazy busy as a result of What Spring Has Been Doing To My Life! I’m definitely the self-inflicted victim of some March Madness that includes the arrival of a tiny, orphaned Shetland lamb (who has taken up residence in my bathtub until better arrangements can be made) and the purchase of a 32-string Celtic Harp. Why I decided to ratchet up the ambient nuttiness by setting an adorable yet hyper-active miniature farm animal loose in the house while I am attempting to sound terrible on eight times as many strings as I am used to can only be ascribed to utter lunacy—which makes sense, since today’s full moon is a Super Moon and coincides with the first Day of Spring.  There is much Magic and Madness about!

I’m not sure what happens to “normal” people in Spring, but here in the Enchanted Forest, the transition is not exactly smooth.  There is a lot of robbing going on. The government took one of my desperately needed hours, just as I was busy forking over my last sack of gold to its Income Removal Service.  I’m fine with redistributing the money; I bitterly resent the loss of the only hour during which, I am convinced, I used to get anything done!  I too am on the take—continually robbing Peter to pay Paul, I am now robbing the chickens as well. They have taken to laying their eggs any damn place they please—including places that are hard to reach due to snow.  The eggs I don’t collect promptly freeze and break their own shells from the inside.  I am waiting for the weather to warm up enough so that I can move the most incontinent dog and the lamb into the hay shed together.  I am tired of shampooing carpets and excited about planting peas. We are all waiting for the Big Thaw…

In the shop, the annual Glitter, Glam & Lace Parade has begun—pale, spotty, sunlight-starved teens are coming in to exercise their right to bare arms, backs, midriffs, legs, you name it, all in the name Fashion and the competition to see who can bleed their parents’ bank accounts the most before Prom.  My current bet goes to the lass with not one but TWO full-price Sherry Hill Gowns, averaging $650 a piece. “It’s disgusting, when children are starving,” mutters Prudence, “why the hell can’t she wear the same dress to two completely different proms in two completely different towns?” (Apparently, there is a law against wearing the same dress twice that people follow with more far more ardor than traffic regulations.) My favorite dress so far belongs to a young woman who comes in with her grandmother.  The grandmother tells us the girl worked hard at her job after school, earned her own money, and bought this used Sherry Hill gown for $200 on Craigslist.  (It’s still a waste of Money, if you ask Prudence, who thinks all prom gowns should be made of flannel and button at the neck and wrist.)  The girl who sold it, sold it filthy dirty and in tatters around the hem and bustle.  I agree to fix it, taking special pains to repair all the damage and make it look as good as new.  Then we have it dry-cleaned. It’s perfect.  Her happy radiance when she tries it on at pick-up makes my heart sing all day.  Other delightful moments include explaining to a young man that everything goes with navy blue, except navy blue (he is trying to put a navy jacket with navy pants and call it a “suit” but they aren’t the same color “navy”) and fitting a girl with Down’s Syndrome for her prom dress.  She has been invited by one of the most popular boys in the school.  Her parents could not be happier as she spins and admires herself in the mirror.  Stories such as this feed my soul for days.

AND THEN…

Well, we have the Other girls. The Queen Bees and Wanna Bees.  A mother-daughter duo arrives at the shop and the girl slips on her dress.  It’s a fabulous bright orange strapless with a mermaid skirt. She fits this dress like a fruit smoothie that is exactly the size of the glass. Every seam lies quietly without straining or flaring.  There isn’t a single bulge or pucker anywhere.  Prudence and I don’t like strapless gowns generally (for differing reasons), but even I have to admit this is flattering to her figure. I assume we just need to hem it but the girl is turning this way and that, looking into the mirror and sneering.  The mother is looking exasperated. “W-h-a-t?” her mother asks, rolling her eyes like she too is sixteen. “What now?”

“It’s just boring. I don’t like the back.  It’s so plain,” she says to her mother.

“She doesn’t like the back,” the mother says to me, as if there is something wrong with my hearing, or perhaps I need a translation.   The girl continues.  “This back is just so…I don’t know…boring. My friend’s dress is interesting.  It has this ribbon thing...” Prudence is ready to explode with one of her rants about the difference between a complaint and a request.  I bite my tongue. 

“How are you planning to wear your hair?” I ask, noting that waves of thick, straight hair totally obscure the dress down to the middle of her back.

“Um… down,” she says. “Yeah, down.”

“Well, then no one is actually going to see the back, really, so why waste money changing anything?” I point out. (I truly am a lazy seamstress!)

Her shoulders sag. “But it’s so Boring…” she moans.

“Only Boring People are ever bored,” grumbles Prudence inside my head. I try to get the part of me that never judges anyone to kick Prudence but that person is too nice.  She slinks away to daydream about planting a garden while Prudence goes off on a rip about Complaints. “My dear Madam,” she says internally, while I hastily line my lips with pins, “I take exception to your habit of announcing that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable to you with the implied Assumption that everyone around you will subsequently make all haste to correct conditions to your liking. Complaints are not good currency in conversation. They tell us Madam is a spoiled brat but they don’t actually tell us what Madam WANTS and I have no patience for guessing games.”

Complaints that are not attached to specific requests are one of Prudence’s Pet Peeves. (Prudence has so many pet peeves there could be an entire blog on them alone…)  When my children were small and made proclamations like “I’m Hungry!” I used to put out my hand and shake theirs and say “Howdy Hungry! I’m called Mummy!” which annoyed them no end but trained them to say things like “may I have a snack?” instead. When they said “I’m Hot/Cold/Tired/Mad/Lonely/Bored/…” I would say, “hmm… Good job identifying the feeling. Now, what is it you Want?” (By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, this Inspired kind of parenting never really went down all that well.  More often than not, it had the effect of inciting a full-blown, total-body-thrash tantrum and accusations that I just did not Understand.  Nothing sends a teenager round the bend faster than calmly meeting their distress with questions like “Ok, I hear a complaint. Where’s the request? What would you like me to do for you? How can I help you?”

In my experience, Teenagers, Toddlers, and Women over Fifty are some of the wildest people I know.  Like March in New England, they are both thrilling and miserable to deal with. What do they have in common? Frequent Bad Manners and the fact that they are all in the midst of a massive Transition. People in transition do not yet know who they are.  They are emerging.  They are lions and they are lambs.  They are fresh new crocuses poking their heads up through dirty snow and last year’s leaves.  They are mud with ice.  You need all sorts of rain gear around them.  They melt and freeze without warning.  They are faced with daunting situations that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, in traitorous bodies they no longer recognize.  They understand change is inevitable and they are willing, even excited, to grow.  But then come the moments when their balance is so off they fall. They fall hard and cry loudly. They are embarrassing and embarrassed and their shame tempts them repeatedly to abstain from being themselves but they cannot help it.  Truces must be navigated.

This is the Light overcoming the Dark and the Future taking the reins from the Past. This is New Life.  It’s a wondrous, exhausting, and exhilarating MESS.  It is a churning upheaval bursting with possibilities, laughter, and a new kind of music mixed with the bleating of young lambs who capture our hearts and soil our carpets…. This is Spring. At least from where I can see it.

May you bravely clear away the Old and celebrate your own New Shoots, Dear Ones!  Wishing you many Unexpected Blessings and a very Happy Spring!

Yours aye,

Nancy

A little Sweetness...

Greetings my Dear Ones!

March is Maple Sugaring month in these parts. An older man (and by “older” I mean in his mid-nineties) marches into the shop with an armload of trousers he wants hemmed and three quart-sized mason jars full of amber liquid, which he plops on the cutting table with a thud.  “Here you go, girls!” he announces in a voice that tells us his hearing aid is either off or out of batteries, “I brought you each a jar of my very own maple syrup! I’ve been boiling off all week. This is for you but I expect a little sweetness in return.” And then he holds out his arms as if we are supposed to rush to him and smother him with hugs and kisses.  We all stand still and look at him for an awkward moment.  He is well known in town as “a character.”

“Well,” says one of the “Girls,” “Sir, we’d be glad to hem your pants for you for free.  That’s pretty sweet…”

“Hem my pants for free? Boy, you’re really getting the better deal out of that one!” he scoffs. “Do you know how much this stuff is worth?” he says, pointing at the syrup.  Then he laughs and hugs the lady closest to him.  It’s a brief hug and she laughs it off good naturedly. “My wife’s been dead for these past twenty years and I’m still mad at her for leaving me.  Boy these hugs feel good,” he says, attempting to grab the next woman.  She shrugs and gives him a tepid, wooden little hug.  I am in my corner, behind my table, observing all of this from a safe distance as he launches into some inappropriate jokes that crack no one up but him.  My colleagues and I exchange knowing glances.  Our forced smiles and stiff-cheeked little chuckles accidentally encourage him.  Ours is a “service” industry and we are polite “girls” but does this really have to be part of the service? Prudence is disgusted with him. 

“It’s lonesome out there in the sugar shack,” he sighs. Part of me marvels that he is in a sugar shack at all, instead of parked in a rocking chair somewhere.  I have never seen a man in his nineties looking so robust.  He is built like a windmill. “Do you know how much water has to come off the sap before it becomes syrup? It’s a hell of a lot,” he says, “it’s about forty to one.  That’s why it don’t come cheap.”

Boy do I know… One cannot live twenty five years in Red Sox territory without having tried, at least once, to make Maple syrup.  I’m not sure how other people do it, but this is how I have, keeping in mind Pete Seeger’s comment that “Any damn fool can make things more complicated…” or words to that effect.

1.  Have Scottish husband told by friend in pub that Maple syrup comes from TREES, yes, trees!  Trees in our yard.  All we have to do is poke some holes in them, gather sap, boil it and Hey! Presto! FREE syrup right in our own back yard. No more spending twenty-three dollars a gallon at the grocery store. What could be easier or more fun? The kids will love it!

2.  Become convinced that all that “free sap” on our property will go to waste if we do not boil ninety gallons of the stuff for several weeks. 

3. Rush out and drill six taps in the trees lining our front yard.  Daydream about the Olden Days and how charming this little “family activity” is going to be, despite the fact that the children, resembling brightly colored bear cubs tottering around in their snow gear, munching on dirty snow, are totally oblivious to the project.

4.  Realize we are going to need some buckets. Some families assemble all the necessary equipment BEFORE they commence a project.  Not us.  We prefer the drama of racing to the garage, dumping buckets of junk on the floor, and hastily scrubbing out the dirty cobwebs after the sap is already dribbling down the tree trunk.

 5. Look doubtfully at the bare branches scraping the sky above.  After they have already been tapped, Make Sure you have identified the trees properly. “Are you sure these are the right sort of trees?” I ask, A Field Guide to North American Trees being conspicuously absent..

6. Get reassured by man Who Has No Idea. “Of course they are!” He snorts indignantly.          “They are made of wood, aren’t they?” he says, patting the nearest tree trunk affectionately. “So they are definitely trees. And these,” he says collecting some fallen leaves, “look just like the Canadian flag, so we’re good.” 

7. Watch him grab some of the plastic tubing and chop off a length.

8. Realize that it is not long enough to reach the bucket.

9. Connect trees to buckets using plastic tubing until they resemble medical specimens, hooked up to large plasma buckets, giving blood.

10. Have husband leave for a week-long business trip to Vegas the next day.

11. Check the buckets. Find all three full and frozen.

12. Lug three forty-pound buckets up hill, through deep snow, with a four-year-old on your back. Make two to four trips, as necessary.

13. Consult “granny Google, and Aunty You-Tube,” the modern repository of all ancient folk wisdom, to find out what to do next.

14. Learn that sap must be collected daily.  It will keep a short time if frozen but quickly grows an unsavory mold in less than two days if thawed.  Meanwhile, the tree will continue to produce more and more as the Spring sap run gets going.  The sap rushes up the tree in the morning and returns to the roots as the temperatures drop at night.  This means the sap flows quickly through the tubing, into the collection buckets, twice a day—just like the milking of a cow.  Like other farm activities, it is light-driven and happens twice a day.  Buckets must be emptied at least once a day.  One’s choices are to boil the sap continually, to concentrate it, or keep running to the garage to empty more buckets of tools onto the floor on a daily basis.

15. Also learn that it takes between forty and fifty gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.  This means an average of 39 gallons of moisture must enter the atmosphere of the home if done on the kitchen stove.  The website is clear: “This is an operation best done out of doors, as considerable steam must be released.  The sap must be kept at a rolling boil but stirred constantly and not allowed to burn.  Traditionally, this was done in cauldrons over large, open fires.”

16. Begin frantic search for a cauldron while children and dogs lick frozen hunks of sap, ignoring the bits of grass, leaves, and tree debris imbedded in the ice.

17. Ram a chunk into the largest saucepan you own and turn the stove heat up as high as it will go.

18. Hours later, discover kitchen enveloped in a sweet-smelling fog redolent of cotton candy floss.  Every surface of the counters and cabinets should be damp and slightly sticky. Look for Moisture collecting in droplets on the ceiling above the stove.  The contents of the pot, once clear, should be the color of muddy chardonnay.  A crystalline frost obscuring the windows signals things are going well. 

19.  Boil into the night, after the children are tucked in bed.  To them, observing syrup production is about as much fun as watching paint dry.  Forget the stories of Laura Ingalls and the community sugar party at the Little House in the Big Woods.  Here, in the Big Suburbs there is no festival; just their solitary, sweaty mother stirring and muttering over an electric burner.  The only exciting part is watching her dance and scream when she accidentally kicks a bucket of thawed sap all over the kitchen floor. So much for their father’s dreams of providing them with “education, exploration, and the power of self-reliance.”  Forget science; at best, they learn a few bad words while their mother mops and mops.

20. Give up at midnight and dump the rest of the frozen hunks into a large, square plastic container formerly used to store mittens.  The mittens, like the junk in the garage, can be stored temporarily on the floor.

22. Discover by dawn’s light that the container possesses a tiny hole which, while not being big enough to permit the passage of mittens, is ample to allow several gallons of melted sap to leak all over the floor. 

23. Begin the day with more energetic dancing and screaming, not to mention a washer load of sap-sogged mittens.

24. While mopping AGAIN, ponder whether other historic wives felt the way you do in this moment.  It’s hard to resist the dazzling enthusiasm of pioneer men who are certain their current plan is cheap, easy, and of benefit to Nature, Family and Society.  To them, nothing could be easier or more straightforward—especially when they are directing operations by cell-phone hundreds of miles away. 

25. Accidentally, set fire to the sap. Enjoy a spontaneous visit from the local fire department.  This is the first thing to pique the children’s interest in the project.

26. Throw out smoking pot and begin again.

27. Repeat steps 11-26 for the next three weeks, varying the order as it suits your whims and fancy.

28. When all is said and done, tally the expenses of making your “free” syrup. Be sure to include $300 in electricity, cleaning supplies, phone bills, Internet fees, not to mention damage to stuff you drove over in the garage that was formerly stored in the plastic buckets. 

29. Realize your three measly mason jars are worth about $900.  Display them to visitors with the pride some people reserve for bowling trophies.  This syrup is “too good to eat.”

30. Months later, cram the pantry shelves with bales of canned goods from the same wholesale retailer where you now purchase all your Maple syrup.  In trying to shove twelve cans of corn into line, accidentally crack one of the mason jars hidden in the back.  Slowly, with the invisible inevitability of a true force of Nature, the syrup will seep out along the shelf and crystallize, permanently gluing all of the recently purchased canned goods to the wooden shelf.  Ever after, when one wants something from the pantry, one must bring along a hammer and chisel to free it from the grip of an ancient tree spirit. 

So! There you are. How to make FREE Maple Syrup in 30 easy steps: All it takes is millions of dollars, some buckets, a lot of hand-knit mittens, every pot you own, some disinterested children, a few dogs, a good mop, new kitchen wallpaper (after the other stuff rolls down the walls) and one totally deluded female.

When the man in the shop approaches me with a jar of amber gold, and asks me what I think it is worth—I don’t know how to answer. Finally, he turns to leave and remembers he has not had a hug from me yet.  As this “harmless old man from another era” shuffles closer and closer, arms extended, I think about the “me too” movement.  I think about whether it is worth it to refuse.  I don’t actually want his syrup or his hug.  I think about how vulnerable we each are in that moment and what any one of us is willing to do for a little sweetness in our lives. However we define that “sweetness,” it is no bargain.

I have been a bee-keeper and a maker of jam.  I can tell you from experience that Nature does not give up her glucose without a fight.  It takes a lot of work to glean just a little sweetness.  As humans, we know that Naivette + Experience usually lead to bitterness.  Bitterness leads to defensive self-protection.  Faith, Hope and Courage make us carry on and keep choosing Sweetness, despite its labors.

And What are we here for anyway, but to add a little sweetness to each other’s oatmeal?

Be well my Darlings!  I hope your day is filled with the kind of sweetness you enjoy!

Yours aye,

Nancy

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Offer it Up

A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.” —Michel de Montaigne

Greetings Dear Ones!

A dreary wind that sounds like a far off freight train blows an exhausting sort of cold through all the cracks in doors or windows. It’s true; we do have a little more light these days but it feels thin and watery and uncertain. Winter is losing its charm yet overstaying its welcome like a guest who should be going any day now.  It makes me think of that line from an Eagle’s song, “the sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine/it’s hard to tell the nighttime from the day…” Only our sky DOES snow, with great regularity. Every few days, a fresh layer covers up the grimy stuff like a temporary whitewash that disguises treacherous ice or slush underneath.

The sap is starting to run up and down beneath the bark of the trees, confused as to whether spring is really coming, and all the maple sugaring folks are out there in their torn coats trying to wrestle a bit of sweetness from the bleakness.  It takes a lot of resilience and pancakes to survive in New England at this time of year!

I am tired of the grime—on my car, on my coat, on the floors when we walk in the door… I am tired of wearing heavy layers and boots that feel like depression yet I am NOT ready to don a bathing suit either! My body, along with my spirit, has gone to seed… Prom gowns and wedding gowns are trickling into the shop and bringing with them big, tiresome hems that take a whole afternoon to do properly. Last week, I did a gown so encrusted with glitter, it was like a glitter bomb had gone off in the shop.  I had to vacuum my machine afterwards because the bobbin case was jammed with a thimble’s worth of glitter.  There was glitter on every surface of the shop, glitter in our lunch, glitter falling out of my hair onto my pillow that night. I hate glitter!  It’s disgusting stuff that I’m convinced is actually an environmental hazard and should be outlawed.  Where does all that shite go eventually? Into our drinking water? Into the playgrounds of baby dolphins? One shudders to think of it.

A girl in the dressing room has eye-color-changing contacts which give her the effect of having the eyes of a wild goat.  She has jammed her arms through the ribbon loops at the armpits of her strapless gown and is now wondering why they are too tight. I explain that those loops are really to hold the gown on its hanger; they aren’t straps.  This is, after all, a strapless gown.  When I emerge from the dressing room, another customer is waiting for me at the counter.  She confides, in tones usually reserved for conveying the news that there has been a death in the family, that her undershirt has a layer that is “loose” and she cannot live another moment with it like that. The shop phone is ringing while a millennial, not realizing that seamstresses use their hands for other things besides texting, is simultaneously texting the cell phone to see if we are open.  Meanwhile, I have to get on with the business of destroying a wedding gown for a bride who fancies herself a great designer.  She bought a dress online that does not fit her in any way and is now having me hack it to bits to make it look like trashy lingerie.

I gaze out the sunless window at a passing plow truck scattering grit and sigh… If only there was some way to make all of this WORSE.  When things get Worse, they are usually on their way to getting Better. This time of year is so dull and dreary and filled with mediocre tedium.  We are all waiting for spring but not ready for it either. Making or forcing things to be better does not seem like a viable option yet.  Literally, we must wait for the planet to hurtle a few million more miles through space yet—it’s like the long trip to grandma’s house—and we are all asking from the back seat, “Are we there yet?” No.  So how can we make things worse?  Prudence steps from the shadows.  “I know a wonderful way to make everything worse,” she says.  “It’s called LENT and it starts today.  Offer it up.  Offer up all your measly little sufferings like spare change you can use to pay someone’s debt in Purgatory.” “Isn’t this Purgatory, right here?” I ask. “No,” she says. “Purgatory is a waiting room in the sky, full of people holding crumpled little numbers like the ones they give at the deli and they just watch the big screen with all the current prayer tallies in numbers spinning like trades at the stock market. They haven’t paid full fare to get to Heaven and they are stuck, hoping your bout with lumbago will get them on the next ferry.”

Offer it up.  It is an echo from my childhood.  Whenever I had a complaint, my mother or grandmother or some nearby desiccated nun would say “Offer it up.”  Whatever you are suffering, whether it is a stubbed toe, the torment of a sibling, or a broken heart, a nice slice of guilt is the perfect side dish for your troubles.  Think of how LUCKY you are and how Unfortunate someone else is and offer your suffering for the release of their pain.  Collude in your own neglect/abuse/discontent by choosing to embrace it, on a spiritual level.  You may not have any choice in the matter in the physical realm, but you do in the energetic realm.  This is what sainthood is all about. Choose to accept your suffering and make something holy of it that you can offer as a gift.  Prudence, who fancies herself holier than most because she “suffers” more than most, smiles a satisfied smile as I roll my eyes.  I hate being told to offer it up.

Still, there is a lot to be said for changing my energy around what cannot be changed.  I often say, “when you cannot get out of it, get into it.” Even if that means making things temporarily worse.  A friend of mine is going through a dark time and confronting some personal demons. “Don’t run,” I say. “Stay and fight. Get in there and wallow.  Get scratched up and bloody and find out what these demons have to teach you.  You’ll be a better man for it in the end!”  Once we admit that the Buddha was right: All of Life is Suffering, then there arises some beautiful evidence against it. 

Today is the day that many people will go to church and have their foreheads crossed with ashes and be told “remember man that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”  (“I wonder if your house is some sort of way-station for people coming and going,” whispers Prudence.)  I used to think that this was to make us humble and to show us that life was essentially pointless. I used to think that we were encouraged to give something up so that we could suffer extra for the souls in purgatory—or just suffer for suffering’s sake. Sometimes Lent was just like a mini New Year’s resolution to lose weight or give up a vice.  I am reminded of the story of the man who told his son he was giving up alcohol for Lent.  Three days later, the boy witnessed his father having a beer. “I thought you gave up alcohol,” protested the son. “Oh,” said the father, “this is just a beer.  It’s not hard alcohol.  I just gave up the hard stuff.” “Whew!” says the boy, “what a relief!  You know how I gave up candy? Well, it was only hard candy!”

For some, the next forty days will be all about dropping a size or two before consuming all their lost calories in chocolate bunnies and peanut butter eggs.  For some, it will be a time of deep reflection and acts of piety and service. Maybe we will all be better for it, maybe not. It’s worth a try—bargaining and reworking our bargains with ourselves until we get back to where we started. It’s a great idea to test ourselves with consuming less and doing more.  These are good ideas any time of year whether you choose to hook them to a spiritual practice or not.

Don’t tell Prudence, but I like the idea that the next forty days is a potential workshop for the soul, though I have no intention of making myself humble as a result. Humility just leads to arrogance, as we try to smugly out-humble each other.  I am the oldest of five—I know exactly what smug out-humbling-as-a-way-to-start-trouble is all about!  When we are arrogant, we think certain people and jobs are beneath us.  When we are humble, we think we are less than and undeserving.  Neither is true.  When we are with What Is and see ourselves with loving clarity, then no job is too awful, no weather is too bad, and no season too dreary.  We get on with the business we came here to do and we continue the journey lovingly with our fellow travelers. We do that filthy, glitter-encrusted work AND we are Grateful!!! Like the pancakes, life is sweeter for our laboring.

Be well my Dearies!  And do good work!

Yours aye,

Nancy

Drama Mamas

“All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.” –Oscar Wilde

Greetings Dear Ones!

February is slipping by as if it was greased. March looms and with it one of Prudence Thimbleton’s least favorite seasons of the Shop.  No, it’s not Prom Season—this is just the nasty little hors d’ oeuvres (or horse’s duvet, as some like to call it) preceding that banquet of insanity: Solo Dance Costume season.  Now, for those of you without teenage daughters, let me try to describe what is happening in innocuous-looking sidewalk studios around the countryside:  Essentially, grown people are losing their minds and deciding that fragile, young female psyches should be performing as near to naked as possible in bodies they don’t fully recognize yet, trailing glitter, glory, and grief on their way to their crash landing on a psychotherapist’s couch.  A mother, inquiring after the status of her daughter’s custom-made outfit, turns to me and says in utter seriousness, “Is this material stretchy enough for my daughter to lie on her back and spread her legs as far as possible?” (Prudence, wondering if the child was destined for a dance recital or a brothel, nearly had apoplexy.)  Another mother explains that she will be taking her daughter out of school for her fitting, since she cannot change the girl’s hair appointment after school.  School is the thing that is expendable in their frenzied schedule.

Preschoolers  and High Schoolers alike are being swathed in bling-ed-out spandex outfits that resemble a unique blend of circus performer and street walker. They will be spray-tanning youngsters fifty shades of beige and gluing fabric to their bare skin—all in the name of charging their grandparents five bucks a piece to watch them on stage. There is a lot of pressure on these girls and even more on their fraught mothers who have a series of maneuvers they must perform themselves:  they must keep the prized daughter happy and practicing (an impossible task), they must appease the demands of the coaches who seem to be suffering the after-effects of total lobotomies, and finally, above all, they must never let the husbands/fathers in question know how much any of this costs. 

Needless to say, this does not often bring out the best in the girls themselves.  “If there’s one thing sure to rot my garters,” huffs Prudence indignantly, “It’s brats who treat their mothers as if they are ignorant servants—who roll their eyes at us as if dealing with these simpletons is simply insufferable,” as the door slams on yet another angry-yet-entitled teen, trailed by her bewildered and beseeching mother.

The mothers are barely holding it together.  Last week, a mother of four came in and set three live squirrels loose in the shop.  I’m just kidding, they were little girls.  She held the baby on one hip while she tried to negotiate the fitting of a dance costume for the eldest and the two middle squirrels made laps of the shop and pushed all the pins from one pin cushion into the upholstery of a waiting room chair in the shape of their initials.  Among the rubble left when they all departed was the woman’s wallet and handbag.  We tried to ring her cell phone to tell her but she could not answer because the three-year-old was using it to play video games in the back seat of the car.

Wednesday night, on my way home from Brattleboro, I encounter a completely different sort of mother.   It is snowing lightly and I leave fiddle practice early in the hopes of beating the worst of the weather.  I am a few miles from home when I notice a minivan off the side of the road with its hazard lights flashing.  I slow down.  As I pass, I notice a small child, crouching behind the van, looking at one of the rear tires.  I drive on.  I start feeling a strong pull in the center of my gut to go back.  We are all each other’s angels here on earth.  Maybe this family needs “an angel” who can change a tire quickly in the falling snow, rather than having to wait for triple A to show up.  Out here, that could take a while and the roads are already getting bad.  I can almost hear the music they play in Old Westerns when the cavalry shows up as I turn my car around and head back to the van.  Oh, how my ego makes me laugh sometimes!

I leave my hazards blinking and cross the road to the driver’s window. A woman is sitting there with her hands in her lap.  “Are you guys alright?” I ask as she rolls the window down, “How can I help? Is it a tire?” She looks in her rearview mirror and sighs.

“No,” she says with beatific serenity, “We are just sitting here until we calm down enough for me to drive safely again.  I cannot drive when she is in a rage because it is too dangerous.” With that, the child in the back seat, the one I had seen earlier behind the vehicle, gives a savage kick to the back of the seat in front of her, jumps out the door, and starts running up the road, screaming.  “Is she ok? Will she run into traffic? Shall I chase her and bring her down? What do you want me to do???”  My questions are a torrent that she meets with a bleak and weary smile as she heaves herself out of the car and tries to reassure me.  “She’s ok.  She won’t run into traffic. She’s on the spectrum. She’s just having a really hard moment because she is angry and not getting her way.  It doesn’t mean she’s going to get her way.  I’m just giving her the space she needs around her disappointment.  I’ll wait as long as it takes.”  “Oh,” I say, really wishing I could change a tire instead.

We watch her run up the shoulder of the road, almost out of sight, as the snow begins to collect on our hair and faces.  “You have no idea how much I want to be home right now,” the mother says, her face suddenly dissolving in weary sorrow.  “Wow!” I breathe out slowly, taking in the whole scene.  I realize I have not been breathing until now.

She lifts her chin as some headlights flash by in the darkness and I can see that her eyes are the color of a deep, untroubled sea.  She radiates Resolve and Character and Strength.  This is no cringing, placating, vacillating dance Mom I am dealing with here.  I realized how arrogant I have been, thinking I might stop and “help” her.  She has this all well in hand.  She is forcing nothing.  She is threatening nothing.  She is just waiting, pausing, holding the space—as she has clearly done so many times, through so many dark and lonely hours already.  Divine Feminine Grace. There are no trophies to be won with this kind of mothering but there Should be!

“I’ll go if you want me to,” I offer. “But I would like to keep you company for as long as you like, if it’s ok.  This is one time you really don’t have to do this alone.  I know how awful this kind of stuff can be.  Sometimes being the only gown-up is just utterly wretched.”  She nods.  We stand together in the falling snow.  She tells me about her other children.  This one is the youngest of six.  “The others are normal,” she says, then laughs hysterically, “whatever the hell that means…” We both laugh.  “Normal” is just a setting on washing machines, I say. She talks about how people have judged her harshly based on this one’s behavior—as if having five other children hasn’t given her a single clue about parenting.  She has been told by well-meaning and concerned strangers to spank or hit this child to straighten her out.  “I used to be a preschool teacher,” she says. “I’m actually trained to deal with children! But I had to give it up to stay home and advocate for her.  It’s a fulltime job.”

“Being a mother is a full-time job,” I say, “no matter how ‘Normal’ your kids might be.” She laughs.  She doesn’t remember what it is like not to be a mother.  We talk about how mothers are on the front line for a significant amount of sibling sadism and general chaos that seems medieval by modern corporate standards.  I think about all the anguished dance mothers coming into the shop and a pregnant friend of mine who is awaiting the birth of her first child.  “You don’t know what you are going to get when you become a mother, do you?” “No,” she agrees. “It’s a total hijacking.”  By then, the little nine-year-old is back and begins raging and beating on the car.  She opens the side door, climbs in, stamps with snowy boots on seats and begins screeching for me to leave. “Go Away!” she screams. “Go away!  This is none of your business!” “Honey, you are SO right,” I say, smiling. “This is totally none of my business, except that I care very much about your safety and I’m going to stay here with your mama so she doesn’t have to be alone until you calm down. Take all the time you want. Everything is ok. You know what to do.”  Lest anyone have any delusions about me being a wanna-be child psychologist, let me just say that my kindly words have the effect of making her roar and catapult herself to the front seat and trash the front of the car.  She rips the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror and uses it as a whip to flail against papers and debris around the car.  Deftly, the mother slips her hand to the ignition and rescues the keys before she can be locked out.  Then she leans against the car and sighs again. I think guiltily of the Peace awaiting me by my fireside less than four miles away—my fiddle and spinning wheel, little snoring dogs, happy son playing music… This woman’s night will not end for many, many years, if ever... 

“God Bless You,” I blurt out, “You are so amazing!”  She laughs.  “Children are such irrational beings! Love isn’t rational either, is it?  Love isn’t about being rational or reasonable.  It’s about Inclusion.  It’s about making space for this…” she gestures towards her daughter rocking the whole car with her drumming heels.  “You can’t tell me any child wants to be like this or feel like this… they are at their own mercy as much as we are.”

Her words echo in my heart after they eventually drive away. LOVE is INCLUSION.  I realize that I didn’t stop to help. I was stopped to Learn.  She was the angel by the side of the road, not I.  I need this message. I need to appreciate the tremendous gifts we give one another simply by INCLUDING what is unexpected.  

When all the craziness of mothering passes, when it’s over and our children are gone and we can finally get some good sleep… When they’ve taken our wisdom and our tools and the last of our best shampoo—that organic stuff that’s twenty bucks a bottle—and they are off to reject everything we ever taught them and find out for themselves… When all the dance recitals are just photos in scrapbooks we never look at…  We turn and see that we haven’t raised our children at all. They’ve raised us.  Now we know how tough we are.  Now we know what is truly important to us.  Now we know what cannot break us in the fiercest storm and what can melt us without even a word.  Now we know what Love is…  And that’s pretty much all we ever need to know.

Be well, my Dearies!  And do Good Work!

Yours Aye,

Nancy

And I Love That!

“You can never be a first class human being, until you have learnt to have some regard for human frailty.” –Abhijit Naskar

Greetings Dear Ones!

It’s 4:am and I sit bolt upright in bed, wondering if I can substitute coconut milk for regular milk in the French toast so that all the dairy free campers can partake of it?  We need to use up all that bread going stale.  Can we serve that with the leftover baked potatoes-turned-hash-browns? We have six hotel pans of them leftover.  Will that be bad? French toast with a side of hash-browns? Who does that? It’s a Scottish music camp and they’ve been happy to eat sixty pounds of potatoes per meal so far… Then I remember: I’m home.  Home in my own bed, surrounded by snoring, farting little clumps of twitching fur.  It’s over.  AND I LOVE THAT.

Last Wednesday, exactly a week ago, I came home from work at 5 o’clock in the evening and stopped pretending I am a Seamstress and began pretending I was a Head cook.  For the next five days, I shopped and peeled, chopped and stirred, tasted, muttered, tutted, and cursed, for an average of 17 hours a day.  I stunk of onions. I looked wretched (especially in the God-awful hats we had to wear) with smears of food on every article of clothing I wore.  Lifting such enormous industrial pans and cauldrons strained every aching muscle in my body… AND I LOVE THAT.  

I am by no means what-so-ever a trained chef but I found myself responsible for feeding 125 people three times a day for 5 days.  During that time, I thought a lot about food, humans, and the amazing similarities between being a cook and a seamstress. I got an intense look at how far I was able to push myself emotionally and physically.  I realized over and over how much I LOVE serving people and yet how challenging it is to be a human myself. Over and over, I lost everything from my dignity or patience to items such as a number ten can of beans or an entire case of peaches.   I came to appreciate the mind-body connection in a whole new way and marveled as I watched my body literally dart around in circles when my mind was disengaged.  So many trains of thought left the station without me… AND I LOVE THAT.

So, how did I get this gig?  Years ago, this camp began as an annual gathering in my former home.  A Boston-based fiddle teacher wanted a place to have a weekend retreat for her advanced students.  Initially, there were less than about 25 people.  When you grow up in a large family with a father who loves to cook enormous amounts of food, it turns out that cooking for 25 is really not that big a deal. It was like Thanksgiving every day. I made all the teenagers help.  Some of them had no idea how to peel an apple. They learned. We cooked together, building both meals and strong communal bonds.  I listened to their stories and their dreams and their music.  Everyone wanted to hang in the kitchen, jamming by the fire, while their friends cooked. Over the years, they left to do and be exciting things but always returned to this event and the numbers swelled to 40.  It might sound crazy to have 40 people in one house but they were all so dear and familiar—they really were FAMILY by then. My son slept in a cupboard under the stairs, his sister at a friend’s house; all the people from Vermont slept in the barn; my former husband slept in one of the larger closets. Sometimes I slept in my car, with all the dogs so they wouldn’t bother people.  The floors were strewn with sleeping bags in every room and one could hardly take a step without having to avoid a body.  The music and the fun were sublime. Every now and then, one of the goats would get loose and wander through the house. It was chaos.  AND I LOVE THAT.

Sadly, my husband and I parted ways and left the dear old tavern that was so crammed with music and memories. We had to find a new venue for the retreat, which by now had many people of every age and ability level clamoring to participate.  My friend asked if I could keep up the cooking tradition, if she found a new place. I agreed wholeheartedly. That year, it became an official “Camp” with administrators and coordinators and things like a “decorating committee” (formerly, my “decorating” had consisted of  a quick dusting and making sure there were no dog turds on the carpet!) but we all agreed that the kitchen magic of coming together to prepare wholesome food for ourselves TOGETHER was a key ingredient in community building and would remain.  “How many people are coming?” I asked. “Eighty,” she said.  “Ok…” I said, “so we just make twice as much!” Easy.  Now, more people could come. No one would be excluded for lack of space on the floor. They would have actual beds.  The community would grow.  The kitchen was bigger and could accommodate more helpers. AND I LOVE THAT.

In two short years, the camp overflowed that venue and we found a new one, with an amazing, fully-equiped industrial kitchen full of enormous things I had no idea how to use. There is an immersion blender there for scrambling eggs that looks like it could power a small motorboat. There is a walk-in fridge, a walk-in freezer, all kinds of racks and trays and warmers and steamers and convection ovens and a cauldron big enough to hold a live goat, though sadly, they are no longer welcome! It’s heaven for cooking for a large crowd.  I volunteered and cooked there for a day with the head chef just to learn how to turn everything on and off.  He taught me how to scramble ten quarts of eggs at a time and cook them on a griddle the size of a Volkswagon. AND I LOVE THAT.

This year, 125 people came. I have never cooked for so many people.  I had some challenges I did not expect. I am not a chef.  I never went to cooking school. I learn by saying dangerous things like, “Hey, what’s the worst that could happen?” and “Why the hell not?” But if you put an apron on and pretend you are in charge, people will treat you as if you know what you are doing and expect you to do great things for them.  People will ask you over (and over and over) how they should cut the (melon/pineapple/onions/potatoes) for you until you want to scream at them “How do I know?? For F* sakes? Make them like Lucky Charms in hearts, stars, clovers, and magical surprises for all I care!  Just take that thing and make it into pieces that might fit on the end of a fork so that some poor soul can get it past their lips!” But of course you don’t do that because you are a “A Nice Person” Or at least pretending to be.  And anyway, you cannot treat well-meaning volunteers that way. AND I LOVE THAT.

One morning, the real resident Head Chef, who was living quietly on the campus and observing things from a safe distance, came to help me make breakfast.  In minutes, he had assembled a delicious breakfast casserole.  It was amazing to watch how deftly he chopped things, how unhurried yet efficient every move with the knife was.  “Where did you learn to do this?” I asked. “Oh,” he replied airily, “I have no formal training. I just learned by doing and got the chance to work with some great people who helped me with the finer points.” Hmmm…I thought.  Exactly how I became a seamstress.  Exactly how a lot of us learn the REAL work we do on a daily basis. We talked about the need to tailor the meals to people’s dietary limitations the way one has to tailor the waistband on a pair of pants.  Both jobs involve a lot of cutting, accommodating, understanding what the requirements are, and a good deal of plain old-fashioned Making It Up As You Go Along.  He laughed at some of the struggles I was having.  His warm, understanding laughter made me feel better instantly.  I was Daunted in a way I had never been daunted before but I was going to be Ok.  It was comforting to know that Real Professionals have these troubles too and that the only things that could seriously hurt me were physical burns, mishandling heavy things, and Unreasonable Expectations of myself or others.   AND I LOVE THAT.

I learned again that people interested in Character Building Experiences can accelerate their personal growth opportunities tremendously by trying to accomplish simple, menial tasks in a timely manner with people who have no idea what they are doing.  I learned the value of teamwork and collaboration and that those who just “See what needs to be done and do it” are INVALUABLE everywhere they go.  An earnest young man, wishing to be helpful, came up to me and said “It says my job is to wipe down the tables. How do I do that?”  I paused and looked at him carefully.  He was not kidding. I sensed the Goodness and the Innocence of him and the kindness in his eyes. My heart melted.  I gave him a rag and a bottle of cleaner and showed him how to wipe a table. And my heart sang with joy at the thought of what we are all able to give each other from this shared experience.  We did NOT hire anonymous professionals to serve us.  We learn to serve each other. AND I LOVE THAT.

I love that the Originals who come back every year are now so capable and competent.  They are amazing human beings who have stepped in to fill the significant gaps in my own competence with their own. Every year I try to do better and every year I hit a point where I just fall apart.  So I decided to add the words “and I love that” to every time I must surrender my ego to the process of building something I cannot do alone. I learned that we find out Who We Are by rushing the limits of what we think we can do and we find out where that line is by going past it. Then we find out who our true friends are when they come to gather up the pieces left by the crash and help us put ourselves and the Plan back together. Our weakness, our incompetence, our weariness is the gift we give others who are Strong—who by coming to our aid, belong to our hearts in a way they never could have otherwise. We finish Together—Tired yet Triumphant, totally nourished in Body and Soul.   I wasn’t the Super-Hero I wanted to be. I needed help. I got it!  AND I LOVE THAT.

Be well my darlings!  And do good work!

Yours aye,

Nancy

A Valentine for You (yes, YOU!)

Greetings Dearest,

This letter is for You… Yes, YOU.   I have something deeply personal and intimate to share with you that might make you feel like you have just eaten too many sugar-free gummy bears but I must tell you anyway.  I’m too shy to say it aloud when I am with you, so I have to write it out.  STOP wondering who this is “for”…it’s for YOU.  I love you.  I love everything about you.  Truly, Madly, Deeply—smitten in the most smittenish way one could be smitted. But I’m not sure you know yet… One of the reasons you might not know I love you is because you don’t Notice.  You are so guarded against Receiving what is yours that you don’t even hear me.  Please, pay attention now:

 I said I love EVERYTHING about you.  You are absolutely, without a doubt, 100% Adorable.  I love your laugh, your smile, and when your eyes glitter with passion and energy when you talk about the people, places, and things you love.  I love to witness you being lit up with Joy.  I love all the things about you that are so Good—that are so much better than some things I see in myself. You inspire me! You guide me and instruct me, without your even knowing it, in the Grace-filled ways you move, speak, listen, share.  I am in Awe.

I love all the parts of you that are the same as mine. I love how similar we are.  I love the sense of connection, communion and community I feel in all the ways we are the same.  You make me feel like I belong, like I am not alone.  We are equals.  We are peers. We are cut from the same slightly warped piece of cloth and we can laugh about it.  We understand each other. I love that!

I love all the horrid parts about you: those icky, shameful parts you wish I could not see.  I see them.  And some of them are truly awful—every bit as terrible as some of mine, I realize with considerable relief.  I look at you and think “Whew!  I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that! Yikes!” I watch you flail and struggle with your humanness and then I find myself loving you even more.  Thanks to you, I learn pity, compassion, forgiveness.  I learn that truly loveable people are not perfect.

I love the parts of you I cannot understand yet. Every time you reveal that you are YOU and not someone else, and especially not me, I become more fascinated and intrigued.  Just when I think you are familiar, you surprise me. You are a source of endless curiosity to me.

I love how Wise you are—it gives me a chance to learn.

I love how Stupid you are—it gives me a chance to teach.

I love how Clumsy you are—it gives me a chance to be patient.

I love how Patient you are—it gives me the space I need to try again.

I love how Experienced you are—it gives me a chance to trust.

I love how Innocent you are—it gives me a chance to protect.

I’ve looked around enough to know that there is absolutely no one else precisely like you on this planet. You are Rare.  Of the 7.6 BILLION people on the globe, you are a sub-set of ONE. You were tailor made of the Highest Quality.  You are not mass-produced, off-the-rack, cheap quality goods.  No, my dearest, like the finest Continental suit, you are Bespoke.  You were bespoke in your mother’s womb and you’ve been making yourself ever more interesting with every new scar or skill since that first moment you took a tiny breath of All that is Infinite and set your lungs and life ablaze with your own private fire.

Does knowing I love you this much make you uncomfortable? What an Odd thing that a declaration of Love could make one cringe… Relax! There’s no need to worry…I’m not going to knit you scratchy socks or harvest a bunch of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme and make you Cambric shirts without needlework.  (I know better than to give you something that requires ironing!) Besides, I’ve made plenty of those in my youth and I am, quite frankly, a little tired of that kind of sewing.  My eyesight and idealism are fading.  I don’t want to be your True Love anyway. (On the bright side, I won’t be asking for an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand either.  I am too old for that kind of farming.) I just love you, that’s all.  Live where you want.  Wear what you want.  Marry who or what you want. I honestly don’t give a rip if you ever even love me back.

When I was very young, I used to wonder who would ever love me.  Who would comfort me? Who would hear me? Who would see me and be my witness that I am here?  I could feel an ache in my heart-space where love from some source outside of me was supposed to go.  As I matured, and was shaped by Family, Faith and School, I began to realize that my heart ached not with love that was Missing but with Love inside of me that was meant for Others. It was not my job to receive but to Give.  Give and Give and Give. Now that I am what a friend’s five-year-old calls “a little old latey,” I can see that I was wrong both times. Each time, I wound up feeling empty, lost.  Now, I know we must give AND receive. I no longer ask “Who can fill me?” or “Whom can I fix?” but rather “How can WE play a useful part in helping all of us love each other better?” How can I help you to love yourself? How can I see my own love in your mirror?

One of the most amazing things a True Love ever said was “You are so Special!  What is it you do that makes you You? I need to know so that I can help you keep doing that thing.  I love you and I don’t want you to stop doing anything that makes you Who You Are. It would be a terrible loss if you could not bloom into all you could ever be.”

So now I put the same question to you: what is it that makes you YOU? What makes your heart sing?  What makes you giddy with Joy? What makes you calmly Serene? What do you need to do or experience or create or feel to bring yourself to the center of your own sacred Being and give glory? Do you need to Run? Dance? Garden? Fiddle? Drive with the windows down and classic rock blaring? Neuter tom-cats? Macrame plant hangers? Knit things out of animal fibres? Play Guitar? Keep shuffling important papers in a cubicle in HR? Stop thinking about what the world around you needs.  It needs You. You need to show up and do your best You. I want that for you more than giving you twelve dozen roses, your weight in chocolate, and a winning lottery ticket. You’ll be a far better student, parent, worker, artist, dreamer, writer, builder… if you are fully present as your full self.  Once you realize how precious you are, you won’t care so much if the secondary details are not as important as you thought.  Who cares if your house is not that tidy, or your mind isn’t either for that matter? And if you do your best to show up and that “you” is sometimes grumpy, lazy, ill-tempered and sad—ask yourself what you need in those moments. Know that I want you to have it.

I know you are more comfortable Giving than receiving.  I’ve seen you. I know. You are conditioned, like me, to prefer the subtle resentments of over-giving to the guilt of receiving. It’s one of the endearing things I love best about you.  But it worries me too.  Even now, I know you are wondering who I’m “really” writing to.  Trust me, it’s YOU!! You need to be able to Receive.  If you cannot receive the love in this note, how will you know which sunset is for you? (hint: ALL of them!) How will you tune your soul to the magnificent Silence of starlight on snow? How will you remember to stop and sniff all those over-priced roses for sale this week? (Do it!! They’re gorgeous!) Or even appreciate the exquisite beauty of someone who actually knows how to execute properly the entry and exit of a traffic circle round-about? (a true miracle of Un-nature)

It’s not your endless Giving that depletes you, Dear One—it’s that you do not let your own well refill with gracious Receiving. You are mostly Wonderful—apart from the fact that you are not loyal to your own wonderfulness. Like a stray cat, you expect others to notice it and feed it.  Stop doing that. Adopt yourself.  Doing so will not make you “selfish” in that horrible leave-all-your-dishes-in-the-sink-for-others-to-do kind of way (it shouldn’t!) but if you don’t start serving seriously your own wonderfulness, then you deny the world of a precious gift it was meant to enjoy—and in essence you steal yourself from us all.  

Thank you for being you. I love you so much! Today, please do what it takes to keep being you.  Serve your gift. Do whatever it takes to bring the Love to the world that only you can bring. Tomorrow is Valentine’s day—a good enough reason to send you this letter.  But please, don’t think I love you just for this day only.  Read this letter Any day!  I love you for Always. Receive it as best you can and pass it on.

All my Love,

Me

 P.S. Now go smell the Roses!!!  REALLY smell them.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

“What upsets me is not that you lied to me, but that from now on I can no longer believe you.” – Nietzsche

 Greetings my Dear Ones!

It’s February…our temperatures have fluctuated by almost sixty degrees in the past five days.  After the recent cold snap that went only as low as -12F at my house (not quite the polar vortex suffered by the Midwest), we ran around like fools in T-shirts when the mercury rose to 50F—it felt so balmy!   Every year, I have to remind myself to make no major life decisions before the daffodils appear.  It’s too hard to trust anything in February—from the weather to my internal sunlight-deprived state of mind.  One must dress in layers of wool and skepticism.   We have nothing to look forward to but mud, shams, and shamrocks in March too—it’s tempting abandon all attempts at Elegance until mid April.  Getting from the house to the car will be a full-contact sport for many weeks to come.

Valentine’s Day is coming up.  So is Prom season.  It’s as good a time as any to ponder lies.   For one thing, people seem to lie to us in the shop all the time.  Sometimes, their lies are really funny.  Sometimes they are deeply painful.   Sometimes they affect us financially.  Sometimes they keep us up at night.  Some might argue that a lie is a lie and any Untruth is a crime against our spirits.  I think reality is more confusing than that.  For one thing, we create our own reality based on both our ignorance and our experience.  A woman came into the shop and said “I’m so glad I found you!  I had no idea you guys were here.  I’m not from around here.” “Oh, really?” I ask, instantly curious. I love meeting people from other places.  “Where are you from?” I inquire, thinking she will say something exotic like Colorado or Michigan.  But NO.  She names the town Right Next To This One—the one whose very border is less than three miles from our doorstep.  She’s lived there all her life, never lived anywhere else, just never bothered to go three miles southwest! But she’s not from “around here.”

Sometimes lies are just big verbal turds that people leave behind, expecting others to clean up.  There is a woman who works in the local prison system who had all her uniforms altered and then got promoted before she could collect her order.  She no longer needs those shirts, so she won’t come pick them up.  Nor will she send a check.  This has been going on for nearly a year.  On the rare occasions that she can be reached by phone (by tricking her and disguising the number of the shop) she laughs and says she’ll be in “tomorrow” to get everything.  Then she isn’t.

A bride came and picked up her wedding dress on her wedding day.  She did not have the full payment with her.  She gave us less than a third of the total cost and gratefully promised to send a cheque with the remainder later.  We let the dress go.  What kind of monsters would deprive a bride of her dress on her wedding day?  Who doesn’t have compassion for the disorganized and flustered on that day?  These things happen.  We have allowed many brides to take their dresses. Now, she refuses to pay for about fifty hours worth of work that she feels should be free because she didn’t like the price of professional service to begin with.  A trip to small claims court did nothing.  She tearfully told the adjudicator that “it’s not like she didn’t pay something—she paid “what she could” but we were just “too greedy.”  Our prices were too high, though she admitted that the quality of the work was outstanding.

I agree with a man who says lying can be defined in terms similar to murder: There are first degree lies that are told with malice aforethought and intent to deliberately mislead or do harm.  Then there are second degree Falsehoods of Convenience that folks use to convince themselves that they can have things the way they want them, unencumbered by the Truth.  Finally, there are the so-called “White Lies”—which are some of the dirtiest.  (Why tell someone they look good if they don’t?) But we are all guilty of saying we are “fine” when the reality is more like your cat just pooped in your shoes, your girlfriend dumped you, and you just found out there is a snow storm on the way and you have neither bread nor milk.  Sometimes these “White lies” are told to prevent an argument or bad feelings over something generally meaningless: “This? Why it was on SALE! Yes…it was practically free.” Sometimes the information we have said only includes things we want to say and excludes things that we don't want anyone to know. So while TECHNICALLY we have not told anything false, we have also not revealed all that we know to be true—as in: Me holding up crusty trousers:“Did you wash these?”  Customer: “Yes. (once, a long time ago, probably during the first Bush administration) Yes. Definitely. They have been washed.”

Growing up, lying of any kind was a Serious Offense in my family home, with swift and HARSH consequences—what Prudence nods to approvingly as “Good Old-Fashioned Discipline,” not  the little chat or “time-out” that people give their kids today.  My mother had a fool-proof way to get us kids to tell her the truth.  When crimes or misdemeanors were committed in the household, Inquisitions were held immediately.  Anyone whose testimony was doubted was required to stick out his or her tongue.  She had us convinced that if we told a lie, a “black spot” would appear on the surface of the tongue.  We lied to each other and into mirrors all the time to test this phenomenon but we never saw a single black spot.  She told us it was something “only mothers could see” and that one day, if we were lucky enough to have rotten little children of our own who lied to us, we would be able to see the spots then.  It was incredible.  She always could tell when we were lying.  We had no idea how she managed it.  She was never wrong.  (Let’s not get into the extreme Irony around the fact that my mother told this great Whopper herself, in order to get us to keep to the straight and narrow.  Maybe anyone who has five or more children is allowed to fight dirty for Justice to be served.) Twenty years later, over a beer, she admitted that she could always tell by how fast or slowly we would stick our tongues out whether or not we had something “to hide.”

I learned very young that Yes, the Truth hurts—sometimes excruciatingly so.  As I have aged, I have also come to learn that the hurt from a harsh truth never lasts as long as the hurt from a lie, no matter how well-intentioned.   

So why do people lie, especially when they don’t need to?  Do we really care whether it was your dog or your cat or your own recklessness that caused your pants to rupture? We don’t need to hear what you were drinking when your sleeve caught fire.  From my little sewing desk in the corner, here is what I think is The Truth about lies:

Most Liars really want us to like them—at the very least, they don’t want to disappoint us.  They come up with the most fascinating stories to make themselves look like good-humored, totally innocent victims we should Not Judge.  Fundamentally, they are trying to hide themselves because they suspect they might not be acceptable, never mind loveable, just As They Are.

The lies may not matter to us, but they matter to our customers.  They invest in their stories, no matter how irrelevant we may find them.  They actually care deeply about centering themselves in a reality of their choosing—even if it’s that they own a magic Christmas tree farm that requires them to wear costumes from the Australian Outback in the nineteenth century. 

They are often trying to control a situation and are using lies to manipulate an outcome. “I need this shirt done by Friday (which is secretly two weeks before I actually need it) because my sister’s/friend’s/pet gold fish’s previous owner has requested I wear this shirt to her wedding on Saturday…” instead of simply ASKING “Is there any reason I could not have this when I want it?”  At least once a week, we are in a panic that someone has not come in to collect an important item, only to find out they don’t need it for another week or two and had given us a false date. Such subterfuges are demeaning to us because they belie a customer’s lack of faith in our willingness or ability to serve him/her just because it is the Right Thing To Do! (How does anyone stay in business if they don’t give their people what they want when they want it??)

Lies swiftly become great big, fat snowballs.  They roll downhill gathering weight and collecting more and more details and complications as they go.  I can always tell when a customer is feeling nervous and starting down a tricky path of um…. “FABRIC-ation” about her garment.  Sometimes a little inaccuracy saves them tons of explanation.  Sometimes tons of explanation leads them far astray. 

They don’t think they are lying anymore—they have told this particular fib for so long that they actually think it is the truth. “No, seriously, I AM a size 10.”

They know it is not the truth but they so desperately want it to be true—like the time I asked my five-year-old who had scribbled on the wall in crayon and written her (misspelled) name about eighteen inches off the ground and she told me right away that “Daddy did it.”  Among my personal favorites:  “This fits great—I just can’t get the zip up.” “It’s not my size but it fits me.”

I believe most people are honest most of the time.   Some statistics would have us believing that people are confusing or misrepresenting themselves to us about thirty percent of the time but as Mark Twain pointed out, there are “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

What do you hear when you know someone has lied to you? “I hear that I am not valued,” says a friend.  Personally, I think it’s just the opposite.  I think the liar is not valuing him/her Self.  The lies we tell other people are nothing to the lies we tell ourselves—sly deceptions spun from clever minds and bitter hearts.

And that’s as close to the Truth as I can get today.

Be well my Darlings!

Yours aye,

Nancy

 

In the Trades

Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth? The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers. Aldo Leopold 

Greetings Dear Ones!

 It has come to my attention that quite a few carpenters and “handywomen”  read this blog! One might not think so but it can be pretty difficult to tell carpenters and seamstresses apart: We use a lot of the same tools, materials, and methods—just on different scales. We both “measure twice, cut once” and swear like naughty sailors when we get it wrong.  We both deal with bolts, though with differing meanings for that word, and in the end, we each produce a lot of scraps.  We both find ourselves doing the most ridiculously simple and menial chores for people whom, had they not eliminated Shop and Home Ec. classes from the standard high school curriculum in the 1980’s, (or had a conscientious grandparent!) should have been able to do for themselves. As we work, we both visually tessellate items in our minds—turning things inside out and backwards in our imaginations. We have the kind of brains that can imagine things “taken apart.” We are both dependant on the reference points of “plum” and “level,” though we seamsters are more apt to refer to it as a garment’s “center line.”

 Recently,  I had a conversation with a professional designer/builder and told him all the ways our work was similar.  He laughed and said that being a seamstress was more like being a shipwright—that making clothing was more akin to building a boat. Everything has to be accommodated in biomorphic shapes, dealing with rounds; there are no perfectly square edges on a human. “Plum” and “level” become only relative reference points that must be read with a skilled and experienced eye in relation to the ship or body itself, rather than a fixed point on earth.  Humans bob around in air the way that boats bob around in water. If only every hemline had a gimbals! (that mechanism, typically consisting of rings pivoted at right angles, for keeping an instrument such as a compass or chronometer horizontal in a moving vessel or aircraft).

 In both carpentry and tailoring, there is a difference between being a “tradesman” and a “craftsman.” Sadly, we don’t get to be craftsmen (or craftswomen) very often.  We are too busy fixing people’s stuff! A woman comes in to have us stitch a label back on her husband’s tie.  A mother needs her daughter’s uniform skirt hemmed. A young man needs a button sewn on his coat. Another man has ripped his jersey.  A debutante has bought a bargain at TJMaxx only to discover that the shoulder, stitched on with a chain stitch, has given way and is now unraveling the way one opens a sack of dog food.  “It’s just a little thing,” they say, “I wish I knew how to do this.”  So do I, Dear One, so do I! 

Craftsmen devote themselves to making Lovely and Useful things and harnessing Beauty in wood or cloth or metal.  You find a lot of them on Etsy. “In the trades,” we are more often relegated to serving the public than the Muses.  It’s much dirtier work.  Here, I want to avoid creating the wistful, romanticized notion that mine is a “simpler” life that is somehow more authentic or more democratically valorous for being “working class.”  However, I do wish to rehabilitate the honor of the trades.  There is a great sense of agency and competence that comes from doing manual work that is better than any therapist or self-help book in terms of building one’s confidence.  I have been told many times throughout my life that those who work “from the neck up” have way more money and opportunities than those of us who work from the neck down and that does seem to be true.  However, our increasing manual disengagement in a “post-industrialist” society is leading to some terrible things. What ordinary people once made for themselves or each other, they now buy. Instead of fixing things, they just discard and buy new. Our landfills cannot take this.  Also, and I mean this kindly, people seem to be getting dumber about basic, practical stuff they should know how to do.  Not a day goes by that Prudence doesn’t look at some item and say to herself, “Seriously? How is it that a grown-arsed-adult doesn’t know how to x___ y___or z___?” If they are simply too lazy, that’s one thing and we are happy to help.  If they are truly Ignorant, in that unsullied, delicate, exotic way that Oscar Wilde talks about, well then, we as a Society need to look into some things!

 Today, most of our schools, with the exception of a tiny number of Vo-tech schools, give manual trades little Value—celebrating instead the ideals of “potential” rather than achievement. Craftsmanship is about learning to do one thing really well.  Traditional colleges, especially those championing what is known as “a liberal arts education” are designed to give one an open passport to a future, rather than any concrete or saleable skills.  Yes, we are taught rhetoric and logic, but it is not the logic of the skill saw, lathe or sewing machine that could bite or maim us.  It is not even logic one can stub her toe upon.  It is the type of learning that propels smart people into the cubicles of middle management.  As a result, rather than producing skilled workers, our highest levels of educational institutions are churning out hordes of compliant “generalists” untethered by any single set of useful skills, qualified only to go on to more schooling. Plato himself makes a distinction between technical skill and rhetoric in that rhetoric has “no account to give of the real nature of things and so cannot tell the cause of any of them.”  I just LOVE rhetoric.  I could sit and talk about it for days.  But there is a certain submission one must undergo when dealing with the logic of Things, rather than fantastical arts of persuasion.

Give me a good, old fashioned system of indenture! Let us learn by doing. (Think how good this would be for those whose alternative learning styles don’t conform to the factory model of today’s educational system.)  Skilled manual labor involves a very systematic encounter with the material world.  Experience is key.  In days gone by, a young tailor would expect to be an apprentice for a minimum of seven years to be called a master.  As one who works with her hands daily yet still feels the ache of all I am not yet “good” at, seven years to Excellence seems like a dizzying pace.  The wonderful ladies I work with have more than sixty year’s worth of professional experience between them (Which is amazing, considering they are both only “29!”) and yet they are still learning and trying new things. There is a joy in making things. I know the enclosure of my skills and I feel a secret thrill when I am drawn over the edge of them into new experiences, new learning, new patterns and ways for the hands to manifest what the mind imagines.  This is going to take me WAY longer than a mere seven years to master! It is a path, not a destination. 

 The dictionary defines a Trade as “a skilled job, typically one requiring manual skills and special training.”  It is also the exchange of something for something else, typically as a commercial transaction.  I like digging deeper and finding out that the modern word came into Middle English from Middle Low German, and literally meant ‘track’ (of West Germanic origin).  It is also related to “tread.” Early senses included ‘course, way of life’, which gave rise in the 16th century to ‘habitual practice of an occupation’, ‘skilled handicraft’. The current verb senses date from the late 16th century.  A trade is not just a skill but a way of life, a thing one “trades” for things like money (or help building a chicken coop), and a way of knowing and navigating one’s world. I like the notion that “Trade” embodies, at its root, the notion of Life’s Path, or vocation.

We don’t just shape things; they shape us as well.  They literally change our Minds, our very brains. I am also beginning to suspect that manual dexterity is far more easy to cultivate in the young.  It is not impossible at any age, however, the odds are stacked against the older learner, who will require more repetitions than a more malleable younger brain. The cognitive demands of skilled manual work are very high.  They involve a kinesthetic learning over time that creates skill that cannot be had by reading about or watching a task.  I had to do over two hundred button holes by hand before I could reliably create buttonholes that were of consistently uniform size and shape and quality and more than seven hundred before I was actually proud of them.  The intellectual “knowing” or understanding of “how one makes a buttonhole” and then there is the ability to make one.  The two are vastly different things and can only be synthesized over years of practice.  The “brain” must extend all the way to the fingertips and into the tools that are being used—and dendrites grow slowly!

There is literally and figuratively a lot to be said for the hands-on approach to problem solving. Sometimes it begins with the realization that the assumptions and demands of formal education must be ignored or actively resisted.  Once launched, this process of exploration-by-doing, the self-education and development never stops.  There are infinite ways to explore a craft.  No two problems or situations are ever the same. People become skillful and thoughtful only when they care what they are doing.  Through our work, we begin to link the wisdom of the body with the wisdom of the Spirit.  There is no fundamental separation.   Only by pursuing knowledge through our hands do we come to appreciate the interdependence of human skill, intelligence, and soul.  “If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it,” writes Matthew Crawford, author of the brilliant book Shop Class as Soulcraft.  I could not agree more!

Be well my Dearies!  And Do Good Work!

Yours Aye,

Nancy

...Of Mice and Brides

“Plans are worthless but planning is everything.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower

 Greetings Dear Ones!

Here in the dark underbelly of mid-January, the thoughts of this shivering Seamster turn to ice, mice, and brides.  “Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste/ An’ weary Winter comin fast/ An’ cozie here, beneath the blast/ Thou thought to dwell…”

The recent storm was the perfect opportunity to dwell in Snowetry (snow + poetry):   Burns by the woodstove—while outside, the whole forest became its own Poem. Friday is the 260th birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns and anyone with a drop of Scotch in his/her veins will be wearing “hodden grey” and dining on “hamely fare” of “neeps and tatties” and singing odes to mice and lice and prehistoric-style sausages made of all the mutton the Scots couldn’t sell to the English. This morning, according to Accuweather, it is -2F degrees with a “real feel” of -27 and a wind speed of 17 mph here in my enchanted Forest.  It’s the kind of cold that makes one’s nostril hairs clink if one sniffs quickly.  It’s the kind of cold that has all the Jack Russells piddling on the welcome mat outside the door because they will venture no further into “bleak winds ensuing, baith snell an’ keen” to do their business. (They care nothing for Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening either!) Our wee homestead is a vaguely familiar foreign planet I navigate shin deep in a white, granular substrate. My snow gear, like an astronaut’s suit, impedes any forward momentum as I bring the breakfast hay to the sheep and fresh water to the chickens. It is literally Breathtaking to feel my eyelashes freeze and my eyebrows go crispy as I pause to gaze at the fading morning stars, which seem like local chips of ice themselves, rather than heatless distant suns.

 In the warm bright shop, our “earth-born companions an’ fellow-mortals” come blasting through the front door, stamping their gritty feet, blowing on their reddened hands “wi’ bickerin brattle” and blurting dumb things like “Cold enough for ya?” Most folks seem to hate the cold and can’t believe how COLD it is. “I just can’t believe it is this Cold,” shudders one woman.  I can’t believe she can’t believe it.  “Were you here last year?” I want to know.  It’s Winter… In New England. This shit happens Every year.  And it’s MAGNIFICENT.  The intensity of all four seasons is why we live here! (It’s certainly not for the antics of our fellow motorists in heavy traffic, on macadam renditions of Swiss cheese.)

In the dressing room, the theme of “white and wild” continues.  We have two bridal fittings: First up is a  “wee, sleeket beastie”— standing on the platform in the dressing room.  She is beaming into the mirror and turning this way and that to see the contours of lace frothing about her like she is a dishwasher gently overflowing.  Her wedding is not until October but she is Ready.  Her eyes glitter with deep satisfaction.  “You are so Organized!” I say with admiration.  “Well,” says her mother, nonplussed, “She’s only been planning this since the fifth grade. She has been holding a spot at her favorite venue for the past two years, just in case her man proposed. You know how those prime venues are…” I nod because everyone else is nodding knowingly but secretly Prudence and I are Astonished that Franz, the head coordinator at Top-of-the-Hill-Posh-Weddings-R-Us-Estate knew her wedding would take place there before the groom knew he was going to be a groom!”

Later that afternoon, we have a vastly different fitting with another bride, with “O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” who, by no stretch of the imagination seems to have been planning her nuptial celebrations since last week.  Who knows?  Maybe she just woke up on Monday and realized she had to get her act together by the weekend. She has been pulling all-nighters for several days. Her bridesmaids are with her.  They look irritated and exhausted.  She just got the gown and it needs quite a bit of work.  We’ve got less than a week to slap this thing together before it gets stuffed in a suitcase bound for a beach resort in the Carribean.

It amazes me that on the Same Day, we could entertain the opposite poles of the Bridal Planning Spectrum.  One girl is methodically ticking items off a long list of Everything She Ever Wanted, the other girl, the now-crazed slacker, is going to have to make mad dashes, split-second decisions, and surrender to the Best that Can Occur in the moment.  Both women will be beautifully dressed and equally married by the time all is said and done but one will have the blood-pressure of a New York stock trader and the other will have nothing to do but organize her future husband’s sock drawers.  No doubt, the friendships of all those in both wedding parties will be tested to the limits.

It makes me think about the clarity needed to manifest what we want—whether we know that years in advance or moments.  We need to ask for help.  We need to rely on our friends. We DO need plans. I can’t help thinking that astute couples will look at how they are getting through the wedding prep as a potential blueprint for how the rest of the marriage could go.  I imagine one couple systematically acquiring a mortgage, coordinating the arrival of their children around their vacation schedules, then saving for college and retirement…the other couple just winging it in a perpetual state of reactive astonishment as Life Choices come at them like asteroids in a video game.  In the Amusement park of Marriage, some couples choose to sit in the Tea cups and go gently round and round smiling; others ride the roller-coasters, holding hands, strapped in, screaming all the way.

You might think that I, or certainly Miss Prudence, might have some judgments around which one is doing it “Right.” (Prudence does not care as long as they all Get married and Stay married, with minimal fuss and as little karaoke as possible.) Truly, I have equal affection for each bride.  Each one is a strong, young woman doing her best, with certain presuppositions about how she manages her world or how her world manages her.  Things change.  If there is anything I have observed from my little sewing table in the corner, it’s that Life usually throws the Best Planners a curve ball or two and those who don’t plan at all lurch abruptly between disappointment at not getting what they think they want and suddenly having things work out for the best anyway.  Fate has a way of grinding the roughest edges off us all. But I’m not saying anything than an Ayrshire farmer turning over a mouse nest in the 18th century didn’t already say way better!

Despite all our anxiety and fretting, the truth is that none of us REALLY knows what is really happening until it happens.  We live for our goals, for our routines, for the constructs and structures we create for ourselves “Till crash! the cruel coulter past/ out thro’ thy cell.”  We all know “the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men (and brides, and parents, and lovers, and seamstresses) gang aft agley,” but what is there to do but plan anyway?

On we slog, in “Winter’s sleety dribble, an’ cranreuch cauld!” and backward cast our eyes on prospects drear—while forward, though we “canna see,” we guess and fear!  So we plan, and insure those plans… and then, when plans fall through, there’s always Poetry! 

Be warm and well, my Darlings!  Button up and aye be cheerie! And do Good Work!

Yours aye,

Nancy

P.S. If you come visit me any time soon, please don’t wipe your feet on the Welcome mat!

All We Cannot Do

Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you. --Saint Augustine 

Greetings Dear Ones!

 Winter finally has us in its teeth.  A raw wind whips and licks the corners of the house and icicles drool onto the walkways and steps.  My unpaved driveway is once more a frozen, rutted track for the daily Subaru Luge.  Thirsty animals gulp greedily as I break the ice out of their black rubber buckets and haul liquid water to the chickens and sheep twice a day.  They are remarkably cheery and stoic for creatures with no boots or socks.    

 At work, huddled by the radiator, I am instructed, by means of an attached scrap of paper, to mend the buttons on this coat.   I look over the coat: The collar is also frayed.  The lining inside is hanging in ribbons. The other buttons are limp and in need of a little button Viagra… I sigh. I am tempted to fix everything.  This decrepit woolen puddle of a coat needs an overhaul.  But I am only getting paid to fix what is on the label that has come from the cleaners.  The customers protest mightily when we fix things they do not wish to pay for… It’s sad to say, but thinking about what is best for the garment is often bound to enrage the customer and lose us money in the end.  So I fix the buttons and hang the rest of the mess on the “Done” rack.  It kills me to do this—to walk away from what would be easy to fix if I could just indulge in the impulse to make everything right with that coat.  It’s as hard to walk away from as a dog that needs a good brushing, or a mewling cat that needs feeding.  Without permission, I can do nothing and too many other items await my needling.

 Lady Mothball has arrived with ten pairs of out-of-date summer-weight trousers she wants tailored.  She needs them in a week, she says, when she will return to Florida with the rest of her acrid-scented wardrobe.  Lord and Lady Mothball are what we call “Snowbirds,” which means they are terrified of outdoor cold and so migrate up and down the eastern seaboard attempting to live their entire lives in air-conditioning.  The only ice they wish to encounter will be floating in their gin and tonics. Because most of her clothing is in storage for six months at a time, it reeks of mothballs so badly that as soon as she exits the shop, we hasten to hang her order in the back hall, where it won’t contaminate the clothing belonging to other customers.  Why do people even use mothballs? I wonder, as I press the iron tentatively against her inseam, turning my head to avoid the tiny mushroom cloud of toxins emanating from her inner thigh.   Working on her clothing is giving me an instant headache.   Judging from the look of these pants, no self-respecting moth would want to eat them in the first place.  Prudence Thimbleton is all in favor of quaint home remedies and practices and maintaining the traditions of bygone eras, however, she draws the line at using carcinogenic neurotoxins as pesticides, even for dreaded things like moths.  As a spinner and knitter who happens to store a lot of raw wool around, I despise moths and panic when I see one.  I have been known to store yarn in the freezer, and fill my storage areas with herb sachets, and cedar to discourage them.   The moths know good material when they see it—eating only natural fibers.  Most things today are mixed with polyester, which they won’t eat.  Lady Mothball’s clothing is almost entirely synthetic, so using mothballs is redundant.  We could bury this stuff in a garden and it would never rot.  But there is no convincing her otherwise; she is of a mindset that insists on smelling of indifference and superstition.

 The phone rings.  A woman is lost. “Do you have a sign out?  I can’t find your shop!”

“Yes, madam, it is a large sign.  We actually want you to find us.”

“What is your address?  The GPS system says I am there but I don’t believe it.”

“Yes, that is our address. We are right across from a large yellow diner, you can’t miss that, surely.”

“Oh, I’ve seen that many times. But it’s on the other side of the street.  You are not on that side of the street.”

“No, Madam, we are not.  I merely mention it as a landmark.  If you pause near that establishment and look directly at the other side of the street, you will see our own rather large sign. There is a little driveway on the side and we have parking in the rear of the building.” 

“Ok….” She says hesitantly, as if I have just told her the world is round and if she goes too far in any one direction she will roll unwittingly downhill all the way to Australia, or downtown Fitswell, which she fears more.   That lady, with her phone, motor vehicle, and the full power of the Global Positioning Satellite System at her disposal, never manages to locate us.

 Day after day, we are presented with what a friend of mine likes to call “Opportunities.”  These are opportunities to be humble, to surrender, to make peace with all we cannot or should not do for others, no matter how we might want so to do.  We cannot stand on street corners dressed as thimbles, flagging down potential customers, like the Liberty Tax person.  We cannot make people forego their impulses to poison their clothes.  Sometimes, we cannot even do what we know ought to be The Right Thing for a garment because someone will complain.

In 2001, my former husband and I bought a house together.  It was an enormous house—formerly a tavern in the 18th century, that had fourteen rooms.  We were a family of four.  What the hell were we thinking, buying a house that HUGE? Our two children were under the age of four.  In the unlikely event that we were ever each in separate rooms (let’s face it, both kids and two dogs usually even followed me into the bathroom) there were still TEN empty rooms in that house.  It was crazy.  But we bought it anyway.  In addition to the house and five acres of lawn, were not one, but TWO enormous nineteenth century barns in need of constant repair.  When my father came to visit for the very first time, he looked around everything and then asked me a question that haunted me for the next seventeen years. “Can you live with all you will never be able to do here?”   I had no idea what he meant. We could do anything! Over time, I learned the wisdom of his insight.  In the twenty-two hours a week it took to get the gardens in shape, the house would become ankle-deep in dust bunnies large enough to carry off the resident toddlers; by the time you got the house cleaned, the lawn would have eaten the sheep. By the time you found one of the goats eating groceries in the back of the mini-van, one of the barns would have threatened to collapse.  On and on it went.  To live there happily, one had to agree that getting One Thing done each day, of a possible 42,000 was “progress.”

 It takes a lot to get things done.  It also takes a toll to live in peace with all that is NOT done, what can never be done, so that we don’t collapse in despair and overwhelm.  It feels like failure, rather than sanity, to walk away from things that Could be done if we chose to do them instead of something else.  It’s daunting to take the reins of our own Free Will and take Responsibility for what is most important in each moment. We must live with this in the tailoring shop on a daily basis.  There is only so much we can ever do in the hours of daylight we are given.  The work always exceeds the time and energy available.  Learning “when to say When” is very hard, yet learning to take care of ourselves and lock the door at 5:pm is vital to our mental and physical survival.  The jobs can extend beyond our capacity; we cannot.  We have limits. Sometimes, like dogs on a leash, we must strain to reach that limit and then simply lie down next to all that we cannot do.

 As we age, as we parent, as we seek to Serve each other, we keep encountering new things we cannot or should not do.  Some of it we may wish desperately we could do. As we try to update our wardrobes, physiques and bank accounts before our New Year’s Resolutions wear off, it is well to remind ourselves of the prickly peace we must embrace in being able to live with “all we cannot do.”  Perfection is not often an option. Embedded in the Serenity Prayer is the notion that we must be able to discern what can be changed and what cannot. Some things could be changed—but not by us—and that needs to be Ok.  All we can do is all we can do. 

 Choose well and BE Well my Dearies! Be kind to your dear selves and do Good Work!

Yours aye,

Nancy

A Ripping Good Start

Greetings Dear Friends,

I am painfully aware that the following story does not put its protagonist in the best light.  Therefore, I have put it into fairytale language and changed all the names in the hope of protecting someone who vehemently protests her Innocence—even though we all know she is NOT!

Once upon a time, a certain Seamstress, inspired by the first three chapters of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, decided to take the contents of her entire closet and pile them on her bed.  With the New Year energy driving her to make a Clean Start, she proceeded to purify the empty closet and dispose of all sorts of rubbish she would not like to mention here because it involves nests of mice and empty pizza boxes.  When the floor was polished and every dust mote removed, she returned to the pile on her bed and began the process of holding each item of clothing to see if it “sparked Joy.” The things that didn’t were thanked, blessed, cleaned and folded to be donated.  The Magic was EVERYWHERE.  Because this is a Fairy tale, the mice were talking mice (very rude mice—not the kind that help you with stitching your ball gowns at the last minute), and the clothes talked back to her—though most of what they said cannot be repeated here.

When nothing but Joy was hanging neatly and ecstatically in the closet, the Seamstress was exhausted and fell into a deep slumber amongst the rest of the sadly departing clothes that she was too tired to pack into bags for donation.  She slumbered for a thousand years but no knight in shining armor hacked his way through the jungle of tangled laundry vines to give her love’s first kiss, nor did the peas and pizza boxes bruise her tender skin. She is a Seamstress, not a Princess, for Heaven’s sake! So she woke up in that mess and struggled in the pre-dawn dimness to find something to wear to work that day.

At the foot of the bed, near one of the snoring canine “footmen,” she could discern a folded pair of jeans. “Ah!” she thought, “I’ll just wear these and have a casual sort of day.  It’s our first day back and the weather is lousy. These will be fine.”  She worked them over her hips in the dark.  They fit beautifully.  “Gee,” she thought, “I don’t remember having these.  How did they get in the donation pile?” she wondered. “These look great!  They feel great! I need to keep these!” she thought happily, sparked with Joy.  (It is important to note that At No Time did this beloved heroine ever ONCE actually look in the mirror.)  Off she went to feed her sheep and chickens and have the local flora and fauna sing to her just like they do in fairytales.  She had porridge for breakfast and left her woodland cottage only a hair late for work, which was progress for her.

At work, because this is a fairytale, all she had to do was wave her silver thimble over things and they got better: Lumps got smoothed, trousers tapered, dresses hemmed, and zippers fixed with a mere whisper.  All the customers danced and clicked their heels and sang show tunes. It’s “zipper time” in the shop—the time of year when every second customer needs to have a zipper fixed.  Noblemen and peasants alike approach with ratty coats saying “Can you help me? I know it’s ugly but I only use it for shoveling snow.”  (It’s beginning to dawn on our heroine that she may be the only resident of New England who shovels snow in her pajamas.)  The “emergencies” that are not zippers are for funerals.  There is a certain percentage of the population of Fitzwell that chooses to shuffle off its mortal coils rather than face another three months of snow and jammed zippers.  Right away, there are three funerals this week and our fairytale seamstress spends a good bit of the morning crawling around men’s ankles, getting their hem lengths just right.  Yes, this is very important to the story: picture a woman CRAWLING on her knees, with mirrors on both sides of her, mirrors she does not see because she is so focused on her work and her attention to her customers. Bending down. Bending over. Crawling...

And now, the fairy tale continues…

A middle-aged man comes in.  She asks him how he is. He gives a stock standard, typically stoic response born from years of snow and funerals and jammed zippers, “Well, I can’t complain!”

“Would you want to?” she wonders. “Why can’t you? Are you not allowed?”  She is curious. Perhaps it is another one of those New England things. Or maybe it’s because this is a fairytale and no one is allowed to complain in fairytales, except the evil ones.  This man does not look evil.  He looks tired.

“I need these pants hemmed for my mom’s funeral on Saturday,” he says.  She nods and leads him to the dressing room. “Your mom just died and you can’t complain???” she wonders in awe. Just WHAT would it take to make you complain??? When the door opens, she crawls around his feet for a few moments, then he leaves.

Over lunch, one of the other seamstresses starts talking about how they have to get back to going to hot yoga together.  Cookie season is over.  It’s time to get serious about having their pants fit again.  First, our heroine wonders idly what would happen if they ate a bunch of Raw cookie dough and then went to hot yoga? Would it bake? Then she looks down at her mystery jeans and thinks again “I must be getting a little squashy in my head.  I seriously don’t remember buying these but I’m glad I did.  I never have jeans fit this well so early in the year!”  Out loud, she says to her co-workers, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a second brain that we could have resting on a charger while we drain the first one, like the battery packs on a cordless drill?  Mine runs down too quickly during the day.  I really need another brain! I don’t remember buying these jeans.” They nod understandingly.  It happens to everyone.

She rushes home to feed the dogs and animals, then rip off all her clothes as fast as she can to change for yoga class.  It’s your standard fairytale yoga class with everyone feeling virtuous and supple and smugly sweaty.  By the end, everyone is magically smaller and more toned and infinitely more flexible and spiritually healed, and probably wealthier too, since the class was on discount…

This Whole peaceful, happy FAIRYTALE ends abruptly that evening when the Seamstress gets a call from her daughter in college. “Hi Mom, how’s it going?  Have you gotten a chance to fix the pair of jeans I left on your bed?  It has two large holes in the bum, kind of underneath the cheeks. I’m not sure what happened.  The fabric just kind of gave way and it needs a patch.  I’d get rid of them but they are my favorite jeans.  They are so comfy!”  Suddenly feeling dizzy, the seamstress hastens to her laundry basket and holds up the pair of jeans she has worn all day.  This is the first time, since dressing in the dark that morning that she has actually LOOKED at them.   What she sees makes her want to pass out.  Her whole fairytale day fast-forwards in front of her eyes…the crawling… the bending… Oh dear God… She probably looked just fine standing up but standing up is not the only thing she does all day.  Visions of dough bulging through two holes haunt her. Is it even possible, to be THAT oblivious that a bit of one’s arse can hang out ALL DAY (no wonder those jeans fit better than any she owns!) and not be physically present enough to realize it?  Yes…apparently, it is… Suddenly, she has to lie down.

WHY DID NO ONE SAY ANYTHING???

Because, well… Here in New England, “we can’t complain.” Also, maybe we don’t really look at each other all that closely.  Maybe we are all more swept into the concerns of our own chattering minds. Perhaps a seamstress in bombed out jeans is no surprise to them: “Physician, heal thyself; Seamstress, mend thy ways and cover your bum while you’re at it!”

In any case dear Reader, I sincerely hope that you can stop weeping over this tragic tale long enough to appreciate that, like all good fairytales, this one contains a rather stern Moral: The life changing magic of tidying up is nothing to the life changing magic of looking at your damn clothes before you wear them! If something seems to fit too well, check again!

Be well, my Dearies!  And may your new year be off to a Ripping Good Start!

Yours aye,

Nancy

In the Beginning was....

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every year find you a better man.” –Benjamin Franklin

Greetings & Happy New Year, Dear Ones!

As the last sands rush through the hourglass of 2018, a December man, looking a bit like Father Time himself, comes into the shop, tottering on three legs, to see if we can alter his new suit.  “How old do you think I am?” he bellows. We shrug.  We have learned not even to guess such things.

 “Twenty-nine?” I tease.  He chortles.

“I’m ninety-six!”  It’s true; he looks great for ninety-six. “You ever hear of a ninety-six-year-old getting a new suit?”

“You can get a new suit any time you want!” announces my friend from behind the counter.

“You ever see a trailer behind a hearse?” he shouts.  We shake our heads.  He smiles and slaps the table. “I’m getting a new suit because you can’t take anything with you when you go.  My grandson asked me if I was getting it for my funeral. ‘What the hell,’ says I, No Way man.  I ain’t buying a suit because I’m gonna die!!  I’m buying it because I’m gonna LIVE.  I’m gonna live. Live it UP until I go. I’m spending your inheritance.  What else am I supposed to do with this money? I can’t take it with me…Yeah, and that men’s store in town is going out of business and so I thought, what the hell, might as well save a little. It was half off. What a bargain. I couldn’t resist.”  We are tired and he is garrulous. He tells us we are crazy to be so tired at our age.  We are just babies.

Next in are two December Women in their early nineties.  Their niece drops them off out front and they manage to squeeze each other through the heavy front door before it chops them both in half.  They are sisters and still act like it.  Nothing fits them at all.  They come from an era where fabric is supposed to owe them a lifetime of service. “We don’t want to buy anything new at our age,” explains one. “We aren’t going to get the wear out of it so what would be the point?  There’s still plenty of wear in what we’ve got.” What they’ve got is a collection of pants suits hanging off them like they are both supposed to wear them simultaneously. After about twenty minutes of good-natured bickering and teasing, the fittings are done and their niece collects them again.  They insist on paying for all their alterations up front. “At our age, you never know!  Take the money while you can get it!” says one, writing out a check.  She hands it to my friend and then these dear, fond sisters grab each other by the elbow and head for the door, arguing about where to eat lunch. After they are gone, we look at the check.  It is made out for a hundred thousand dollars more than it should be. There are way too many zeros.  “Wow! That’s a big tip,” I say.  My friend shakes her head. “We can’t even cash it.  It’s not made out to us. I don’t know where she thinks she was, but this is not our name.”

These were among our final customers of 2018.  I enjoyed contrasting their attitudes about age and money.  I reveled in the fact that they were so old, like the year itself, and yet so vibrant and so determined to look their best at any age.  Their work is waiting for me as I head to the shop today to pick up my thimble and begin another year of sewing.  I cannot help thinking of them without a certain optimism. 

 I remember last year, on our first day back, a man rushed in with a pair of pants and said, “Here, can you take these in?  I’ve been on a diet for about 24 hours and I think I’ve lost an ounce or two. It would do my mental state a lot of good if you had to take these in already. I would feel like I made progress.  Go ahead and measure me. It would keep me going.  In fact, I want you to make them too small so that I don’t quit.”

I love bodies.  Truly, I do.  I love them in the way that Walt Whitman celebrates them in his poetry.  I can’t help thinking that the ancient Greeks, with their ideas concerning denigration of the body, favoring Spirit over flesh, were wrong.  I feel a pang for all the bodies out there this morning, under the tyranny of fresh resolutions, that will be forced to march on treadmills and drink nothing but spinach juice and chlorella until noon or until this latest impulse at self-improvement crashes. I feel sorry for all the hearts and minds that, three to six days from now, will be tortured around the idea that they “failed” again.  I have done this to myself so many times:  I set a resolution to do something to improve my wretched lot, like practice my fiddle every day, then I miss a day and I think, “damn, the Week is wrecked.  And now there goes the whole Month. Which ruins the year…Now I have to wait until NEXT year to be any good at the fiddle.”  For this reason, I hate resolutions! (I resolve not to have any!)

 Still, the notion of self-improvement is intoxicating.  Who Doesn’t want to be an upgraded model of themselves? Prudence Thimbleton adores the idea that, at the start of the New Year, so many people become dissatisfied with a certain moral mediocrity in themselves and rebel against the idea that they should follow their desires wherever they take them and approve of themselves as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.  She is all for having us take stock of ourselves and find ourselves a little less impressive than we had hoped—to realize there is a humiliating gap between our actual selves and our desired selves.  To her way of thinking, we are going to have to return these bodies and souls, like the abused rental cars they are, to their Maker and be given a huge fine for all the damage we’ve allowed. We should be ashamed of ourselves and do something about it.

 I, on the other hand, rebel against the notion that we can divide ourselves into parts that are unworthy of us and still love and celebrate our wholeness. That a young woman might say “I am a loving mother, a darn good accountant, and a dutiful spouse but these thighs are unacceptable,” feels tragic to me. Your Wholeness includes all the parts of you that you might change, but at a level that is Unchanging.  That is what it means to truly love yourself. I cannot help thinking that if we really want to be better humans (which IS a darn good plan!) we need to be more Whole, not more punishing. The business of being Total means we equal the sum of all our parts and perhaps then some.  It is noble and to follow through on the Higher callings of our best selves—to choose discomfort and trade it for deferred Good, rather than immediately present comforts—but not at the point where we must divorce a fundamental part of who we are.   I cannot think that my aim is to be “happy” all the time. That is not Whole. Being Whole means I am a deeply sad person who also knows joy; I am a deeply joyful person who knows sorrow.

Rather than choose a “resolution” this year, I am choosing a “word” that I wish to live into.  I was inspired to do this after a conversation with a friend who said she is doing this as well.  The plan is to choose a word for the coming year that becomes the lens through which you view your opportunities and choices—like “Powerful,” “Abundant,” “Thrive,” “Flourish,” etc… and ask yourself how living into that word will inform your options.  So, you are sitting on your couch, about to dive into a giant bag of Doritos and you pause and say, “is this helping me live into “Vibrancy” (if Vibrancy is your word)? You get invitations to do things over the weekend and you ask yourself, which choice offers the most of (your word). 

 I like this idea better than a resolution (at which I will most certainly fail) for so many reasons.  For one, words have extraordinary power.  Our Western society and the entire Judeo-Christian tradition is based on the idea of Logos—that a Word can create Order out of Chaos. (Our entire judicial system depends on it.)  Also, choosing “a word to live” reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s attempts to cultivate his “manliness” (Vir being Latin for “manliness”) by practicing one of thirteen Virtues each week.  Much of his success in life relates directly to his drive to improve himself constantly around Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Tranquility, Chastity, Humility, and Cleanliness.  But the key is that he did not strive to do it all at once.  He focused. He worked on one at a time for a week at a time. Lastly, choosing one word incorporates a satisfactory amount of “grey” area into the mix—there are gradations of (Flourishing), not absolutes.  Perhaps we were not  as (Accepting) as we had hoped but we lived into it somewhat, to the best we could.  There is always the chance of being more (Graceful) tomorrow.

 The world needs more people living into words like “Vibrant,” “Flourish,” “Generous,” “Strong.” If you drop a dress size because that happens to be the outcome of living into “Vibrancy” then, who are you to complain? But believing “the world needs more people to be a size six by March” is just ludicrous.  

I think of the racks awaiting me at the shop today. They are a metaphor for the new year ahead: There is too much Good needing to be done in this world to be able to do it all at once.  Don’t get overwhelmed. Just Pick one thing.  Do what you can. Do one thing at a time. Do your best. Forgive yourself often and make better choices as a result of your learning.

Love and Joy come to you, and to you your Wassail too (or green tea or Kombucha, as you see fit), May God bless you and send you a Happy New Year!

Be well, my darlings! Live into your Words and do Good Work!

Yours aye,

Nancy