Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: After the Party, a Respite and Rewind

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It was not a restful night. I awakened fuzzy, trailed by difficult dreams. So I spent more than enough time reading a fashion magazine, the sort you don’t have to absorb so much as scan–the words and pictures. The greater emphasis is on pictures. (A few fashion magazines highlight essays, interviews of powerful women, the latest socioeconomic or political info, and health and beauty.) But I am not so intellectually or ethically elevated an individual (well, in my fantasies, likely) that I can’t enjoy a fabulous fashion shoot.

I have always liked aspects of fashion–its visual abundance; the process of transforming inspiration into an array of materials and designs; the performance aspect, no matter where it is shown to the world. It’s ordinary or glamourous impact counts; it’s startling at its best, an accessible sort of theater. It ventures into experiences that most only observe and consider, not engage with beyond the looking. But it somehow can matter a bit. Maybe it gives a jolt to creatives in odd ways. Like the designers whose work reminded me of old Lily Pulitzer designs plus the artist Miro’s paintings. It made me want to get out my own box of paints or collage scraps. It made me, decidely not domestically skilled, want to sew a bit more.

Let’s face it, though: a fashion mag is brazen escapism. I imdulge in this recreation as needed, a simple prescription for discouragment, physical unwellness, worry, even anger. It’s one little coping skill learned as an adolescent. After crying/praying/working hard/helping others, or heavy speculation about a future so like a maze, I take twenty minutes and go through a breezy fashion portal. Fashion also interprets and broadcasts societal goings-on–but from a distance that is safer. Me, I go straight to the easier stuff first.

I read more challenging magazines. I enjoy piles of physical books, delving into a chapters each day and night of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. I study coffee table tomes at my leisure–dragonflies? Pottery? Old maps? Check. I can be enchanted and frustrated by the smorgasboard of materials, the time factor. And then: choose stimulation of mind and spirit or of the eyes, perhaps the heart? Today has been a day for perking up weary eyes and brain cells. A leisurely taking in color and texture and style. And what about the photographer’s interesting ideas? (Oh, uh, I can name admired fashion photographers, old and new. I’ve read these mags for decades, you know.) I dive right in and float awhile in those inventive tableaus.

Of course I enjoy clothes, the looking and wearing of comfy, fun or classy ensembles, and unique, handmade jewelry, a brilliant scarf. But that’s another sort of personal essay, me and how I use or disuse things–closets I have known and choices made. (Did mention I also just enjoy clothing? Or at times, these days. So I wore velveteen emerald green pants and an apple green sweater on Christmas Eve… and a fuschia cashmere with navy pants Christmas Day. And navy wool felt slippers both times. In case you wondered.)

But today I fell into the shiny pages because I am still–after nights of decent sleep (also poor)– sluggish following kaleidoscopic activity of the holidays. The time passed feels a long way away in some regard. I mean Christmas, really. (We watched a show on house renovation New Year’s Eve, then read, then to bed. I heard fireworks going off: 2022 and I lay awake a long time.) The leading up to the Season, then various experiences of the Eve and Day. And a daughter and her partner staying a few more days since they had flown quite a distance. Four out of five adult kids, their honeys and children! I have video of some of the happiness I can replay now and then.

Then at the end of it all closing the door against a wintry mix of weather, turning on the new electric fireplace from our son, sitting and sighing. Imagining how those adults were once kids in other houses with fragrant trees chopped down and decorated to the max. On January 1st we began the tear down and clean up. Which took three days. There are still two boxes that need to be stacked up somewhere in the garage.

How is it that the weeks leading up to Christmas were such fun and now I am still feeling the aftereffects of socializing and eating and gift wrapping and exchanging and ….well, the whole lovely, blurry, fast-action experience. I had shopped like personal shopping was my full time job, a smart and happy shopper, rooting out items on lists, triumphantly spotting options. It felt good to know that the money was there this year, as it was not so much last year after my husband’s lay-off. I headed out on foot but also online, family members square in mind as I got to it. Because this year we planned on as muich family gathering as possible at our home. (Only one daughter was not, and her son, our grandson; she is a minister far away, he works in another state, too.) Between testing, vaccinations and masking, we could make it happen.

And we did, thankfully. It was amazing to have most children and grandchildren at our table, then circled about glimmering, gift-laden tree. But at times I felt as it was a dream. Being much more isolated for nearly two years, it was a rare experience to be in the middle of such abundance. Our unique, adored family. Overwhelming at moments, perhaps, joyful for the time we shared. Love disseminated with words, looks, laughs. It seemed almost too good to be true since life has been defined so often by turmoil, unease and sorrow. One can become leery when so much has been torn from normalcy; foreboding can creep right in. But we seemed to vibrate with pleasure, nonetheless.

Christmas was a mixture of secular and religious/spiritual energy. It has been for a few decades. Sometimes I think it’d be better to separate the two experiences. Or skip gifts altogether. (But: toddler granddaughters…) Or set aside greater time for faith traditions–much harder to do when in a pandemic. No candle lighting service in a sanctuary stilled by respect and full darkness, believers with hands raising brilliant candles aflame in that dome of darkness. The singing of hymns and carols.

Well, no actual church for us but we had family, and cause to cautiously celebrate completion of a difficult year. Though I admit: I forgot the prayer at dinner, our hands holding each others’ hands. No, the truth: I was afraid I would break down due to the invisible but real empty chair…our oldest granddaughter suddenly died in April. How do you pray with gratitude when someone has fast exited the circle? Everyone would weep, there would be tears covering us, grief’s mask with its heaviness. I thought her mother, our daughter, would no longer be able to embrace beauty of this Christmas, only heartache cracking it into pieces. But she had tried and she had done it, enough. So I let that prayer go and proceeded with my husband into the wonders of the time. We wept later.

All that. All the good a tonic, a reprieve, a break in many onerous days and nights… until even coping seemed barely enough. So each moment together was necessary for me, for us all. It wasn’t perfection. We are not all in accordance about everything, not at all, and are opinionated and expressive and smart. It was great human hope and a penchant for more goodness that brought us closer again, and it was seen, heard and held. We wanted to be normal. More caring. And it was further shaped by the eternal presence of Divinity; no matter how people practice their beliefs, everyone knows it, acknowledges it. At our old oak dining table, God has the best seat, the one in the center of the show. And we are family forever, amen.

Now the days go on in their pedestrian manner. Catch up on chores. Catch up with a few not here. More time to read, write, walk, consider creative projects and stat one, call friends, other family (my remaining sister, who has dementia, did not join us but I saw her a few days before).

But, too, harder news: one member who came on Christmas Eve became infected (via an acquaintance) with Covid-19 several days following our gathering. She was vaccinated. She is slowly recovering after 5 days. A daughter that visited from the east coast is now in Colorado with her partner, trying to cancel her flight back. Because she got shingles. And major airports are madness, short staffed, and there are many cancellations with travellers stuck. Snow may complicate things. That Omicron variant is speeding its way across America every moment. It is strange–science but still strange–that something invisible to the naked eye has made us captive to it…

It is back to living more like a solitary soul, with greater cautions– despite being vaccinated and boosted. A virus has its ways. I am suddenly ordering food and essentials for delivery again. No more fun outings unless outdoors and apart from people or picking through a bright mound of tomatos. It is not so bad; I deal with it, as we all must. Being a daily walker and a hiker when I can do that works magic. I can get through most things with a decent walk and a prayer.

The point that came to me after Christmas was how holidays bring an avalanche of real-time love, a release of pent-up energy, the sudden waterfall of happiness. And then the possibility of so much loss. It is enough to make my heart swell and skip too many beats.

How long shall we plod on?–who knows? We have held on, have practiced acceptance, and those of us who’ve been able to have gone on day by day–with courage and adaptability. We gain from greater introspection, become more self-reliant. Are we stalwart enough to keep on fighting discouragement, perhaps loneliness? There have been good dashes of hope; it has been enough for me. Now it’s the wait and wonder part– whatever time will reveal.

And so, then, moving into 2022 from one hard year to another made of primarily unknown qualities. I could tell you how many years have been that way in some iteration. Much if not most of my life. So one more can be looked in the eye.

And hence, the fashion magazines. Not The Seven Lamps of Architecture by John Ruskin that awaits me a mere five inches away. I admit that more frivolous diversions seem so frothy that it is embaraasing to mention but, hey, we do what we can do to alleviate the odd mental dizziness tensions can create these days. And I have done more foolish or worse, that’s for sure. It’s not a drink or a drug or, goodness forbid, a man captivating eye or mind. It’s just good ole Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren; The Row; Dior, Chanel. It’s Bulgari or Van Cleef and Arpels or Paloma Picasso. It’s glossy pages, fast reads. I soak it all up with a flick of the pages, chocolate and strawberries in a time of so many radishes and turnips.

In the midst of challenges that lack few certain answers, problems that want for full resolutions I can find random moments of respite, even insignificant and fleeting. The mundane has its curious nature; a simple thing can offer an illumined moment. It doesn’t all need to be more lofty, though that may be a preference. A fabulous fashion photo by Annie Leibovitz or David LaChapelle interests me immediately, as does a Vivian Maier or Paul Nicklen photo. Then my attention flits to other matters. After all, these are not deep clues to more purposeful questions. Not the core of peace I build upon.

So I stand up, stretch, and discover a refreshed, jauntier viewpoint. I have had a break from a pressing immediacy of reality. I spin around, arms opening to whatever comes. The dryer stops so gather a warm bundle of clean laundry. Then send a quick check-in to two daughters. I’m up to more substantial business, creative explorations. Like a little song writing, power walking, poem making. Blogging my way into 2022. It takes everything–the tinsel and the constancy of the North Star.

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