Re-ginnings: Commencement (Again)



Greetings my Dearies!

It’s five a.m. and some bright eyes and a wet nose find mine in the pre-dawn light. “Is it time to get up yet?” little Pip wonders hopefully, wriggling all over.  He hopes so! There are SO many exciting things that must be done with this new day! There are things that must be peed on, chickens to harass, breakfast to snarf down in three seconds or less to give him time to inspect everyone else’s bowls… He is going to be late for his morning agenda if I don’t hurry. He is SO excited—it’s as if he has no idea that we get a new day every day. He cannot believe I am still lying there instead of bouncing around rejoicing and flinging dog food into dishes.  He begins digging busily at the covers in an effort to unearth me, then his eye catches my baleful glare and he stiffens to stillness at my low growl.  Oh… (ears droop) It’s one of those mornings… He sighs, tucks his tail around his tiny bum and waits.

I lie there, hearing the sheep bleat in the distance, wondering why I have any animals at all, especially this one.  I am not particularly looking forward to this day or any other day for that matter.  A nagging voice in my head says, “You need to get up! You have bills to pay! This place is a mess. If you want to be a professional, you need to act like one, Missy! No booze, no staying up late playing music.  Life is not a party, you know. You need to get to work!

And that’s when I realize that this moment is just like Graduation from college all over again, only without the tequila hangover or the ugly cap and gown.  Well, that’s fitting, I suppose, since it is Commencement Season.  At the shop, we’ve been hemming and tailoring all sorts of outfits for awards ceremonies and commencement rituals for weeks.  I decide that what I need, this morning, right now, is a good old-fashioned Commencement Speech to myself.  I have been working so hard for so long.  I’m tired. All Spring, there has been one test after another here at the University of Me. I am the only pupil, which means there is a lot of pressure—I am simultaneously the best and the worst in the class.  My teachers are everywhere—I’ve even given birth to some. Some grade fairly, some harshly, some are total slackers just like I am.  Just for a moment, I want to be Done with it all.  I want to graduate. I want the summer off to travel. Mainly, I want a diploma and a keg party.  I don’t want to grow up… and I can’t believe I am still saying this at Fifty!

From my bed, I reach for my dictionary and look up the word “commencement.” It’s from Old French and means beginning, start, opening, outset, onset, launch, initiation, inception, origin.  It says nothing about finishing.  I like this.  I like beginnings way better than endings—though they often wear each other’s disguises and it can be hard to tell them apart.

I am more familiar with Beginnings mostly because I really struggle to finish anything.  I start strong, then get to the 80% mark and fizzle. As a seamstress, my daily work is all about beginnings and what I call “re-ginnings.”  Lately, I have been plagued by a little two piece purple dress for an eighth-grade graduate.  (Seriously? Who puts and eighth-grader in a two piece? Answer: an eighth grader who is 13 going on 43, who should be running her own country by now.) It’s been back four times for re-dos.  My life has become a “ground-hog” day of sorts where I go to work and the first thing I do is take apart this little dress and start all over again. This is because the young madam, bless her, is so darn busy that she can’t personally attend any fittings. I haven’t seen this garment on her actual body since starting this work.  From track practice and soccer practice and the horse-back-riding ring she sends first her mother then her grandmother, both of whom behave like ragged pages totally in awe of their Queen, to tell me that the top is now too tight, the bottom is still too loose.  They gesture vaguely with fingers maybe “this much?” and I do my best to guess what this mini-fashionista requires.

I lie in bed and think about that dress, waiting for me on the workbench.  Will today be the day I am rid of it for good? Who knows?

My formal education did not prepare me for this.  I was an English Major. To paraphrase John Mullaney (also an English Major), after four years of not actually reading any of the books I was supposed to read, I then walked across a stage and received an honors degree for a language I already spoke before I started my course of studies.  I was unsure if I had been educated at all until I learned of British philosopher John Alexander Smith’s 1914 opening lecture remarks, “'Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education.” Well, college must have done some good because I certainly hear my share of rot, especially these days!

I know that once I get out of bed and off to work, the rest of the day will be fine. My job is simply to fix, with my hands, one little problem at a time.  That is all. It is an immeasurable comfort—at  a time when my whole world seems so unmanageably tangled, unraveled, broken and disordered, my very self so out of focus and ill-defined—to have someone hand me a pair of socks and say “Can you darn these?” Yes.  That I can do. I don’t always know how to balance a checkbook, pay my bills, or get my children to stop bickering but golly, I CAN darn a pair of socks. The Real way, not just by holding them over the trash can and announcing “darn it!” before dropping them in. I know how to take a wooden egg, slip it under the contours of the rip or hole and begin the tedious but satisfying weaving of threads back and forth, up and down, until the hole is sealed up and filled in as good as new.  It is deeply comforting to do One Thing and see it completed.

So I summon the reserves to deliver and listen to my own “Commencement Address” from my pillow:  “Attention, Nancy!  Thank you for showing up today. On behalf of Prudence Thimbleton and the host of other characters in your head, I would like to honor the work you have done thus far and say a few words in the hopes that you will get your ass out of bed and keep doing it:

 “Forget that garbage about just being yourself.    Right now, your “Self” is someone who would rather nestle into your duvet and eat Swiss Cake Rolls directly out of the box.  Be Someone Better, if you can.  No, you may not go to work today in hairy pajamas and wellington boots.  Society has lost its passion for elegance. Bring some of that back.  Find a dress for Heaven’s sake! And two shoes that match, if not the dress, at least each other. Do one good deed today, even if the best you can manage is to tell a red-cheeked woman to ditch her Spanx reinforced steel and rubber undergarments—a bride has a right to be comfortable on her wedding day, damn it! (At the very least, she should be able to manage toileting herself without an army of attendants.) Good Character is a muscle. Build it.  Be on the lookout for people talking rot.   They are everywhere and rot is accumulating at an alarming rate. Listen to the Quiet ones.  Think before you speak. (And Look before you step—especially on the downstairs carpet!) See what needs to be done and just Do It.  When you can’t get out of it, get into it.  One thing at a time; one day at a time. Now, you GO girl!”

When a baby cries in the night, we begin (again) to be a mother.   When our best friend is acting like a total nut job and we resist the urge to clobber her and use our words instead, we begin (again) to have a relationship. When a child needs our full participation, protection and guidance, we begin (again) to be a father. And when a crabby customer returns with a dress we have fixed five times in the last 48 hours, we begin (again) to be a Seamstress.  Over and over, we rise from tear-stained pillows and our own ashes (or asses), like ancient Sisyphus, and begin again to roll those boulders up the hill.  Not because we are dead but because we are Alive. Because rising makes us better people.  And….because that squirming little dog really needs to get outside NOW!

Be well, dear friends, and do Good Work!

Yours aye,