Thursday, December 20, 2012

I Believe

Just over a year ago, still mourning the very recent loss of my feisty 18-year-old cat, Christmas did not hold the dancing enchantment that it usually does for me.  It’s now “next Christmas” and snow or no snow, I feel bits of magic gathering in the air.  This blog is about loss and a very special book and hope.  Here’s what I wrote last year...  
Even with its wonderful, twinkly-lit, pine-smelling reminder of hope, peace, love and magic, I did not embrace the beauty of Christmas this year.  Emotional numbness over the recent loss of our handful of a way-smart cat and a long weekend get-away in early December left me hollow and rushing to stage a Christmas just before the big day.  My heart wasn’t in it, the energy wasn’t there.  I could not find a way to imagine our mantle, decorated with greenery and stockings, missing one stocking for the first time in almost eighteen years.  At the last minute, we put up a lovely tree and strung it with lights, but left it free of ornaments.  The mantle had its blanket of greenery, but we didn’t hang any stockings.  We celebrated beautifully with longtime, dear friends, as is our tradition, but my heart did not expand with the joy I usually experience.  Well into the New Year I wondered if, after all these years, the wide-open place within my heart which had always allowed me to “Believe” had quietly but firmly closed one day without my even noticing.  

It was a disheartening thought in that, more often than not, I navigate happily through life on heartstrings.  Then my cousin Jane sent me a photo of her beautiful daughter Quin visiting Santa.  Quin turned ten on New Year’s Day and is beginning to wonder, which reminded me of an unusual book I read each year in those special, glittering days before Christmas.  The ritual, forgotten this year, is to wait until the fresh green tree has been maneuvered into the perfect place in the living room, each special ornament has been unwrapped and, sparkling with memory, hung on the tree…and that final trip to the Post Office has been made.  I then put on my favorite carols, light every candle in the room and with a large, wicked glass of spiked eggnog at hand, curl up with The Flight of the Reindeer by Robert Sullivan.  

Found many years ago in a sad little discount book store, this treasure of a book is about Santa Claus and Reindeer That Fly and giving with some bits about science, antlers and aerodynamic lift, a famous arctic explorer and the super-secret Presidential order that clears airspace over the United States each Christmas Eve.  They were asking $5.95 for it.  I bought them all.

Every year, when a friend tells me their son or daughter is beginning to wonder, I dust off one of my stash and send it off to them.  That little tradition began not long after I found the books when my friend Maud told me her son Billy had arrived home from school that week very upset over remarks his teacher had made about Santa.  The concerned parents had a huddle over what exactly to tell their trusting child and then wise dad explained that we all reach a point when we must decide whether or not to “believe”.  He went on to say that some choose to stop believing in what cannot be proven, while others, and in this he included himself, know within their hearts they will always believe.  

So, here I sit thinking about this magical book and loss, and the choices we make and I begin to cry -- in a good way – because I can feel that familiar ache of joy within my heart and I remember that…I believe.  Such a lovely gift…because the sun shines brighter, the flowers smell sweeter and the people around me seem so much kinder.  Happy New Year…I’m looking forward to next Christmas.


Wishing you peace, love and light this season and in the year to come.  E. England

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Finer Things In Life

In so many respects, I’m a down-to-earth, practical person - after all we mid-westerners are known for our no-frills common sense.  I shop selectively and will wear, use and drive my purchases until they can be worn, used and driven no more.  My current car is well over a dozen years old and has 147,000 miles on it -- I can’t bear to imagine life without it.  Sturdy boxes that come in the mail are re-used, along with pretty tissue paper and paper bags -- because it seems a little sad to throw away something so wonderfully useful.  I have been the queen of up-cycled, re-purposed and vintage since long before it was hip.

This is a very good thing - a balance to my “other” side.  As a little girl, my mother would take me back-to-school clothes shopping once a year.  With innocent and unerring precision, I would head straight to the dress, coat or shoes that carried the highest price tag in the children’s section.  It’s a “talent” that has stayed with me throughout my life.  When shopping for a special occasion dress, the one I select will be made of delicate fabric spun from the silken threads of hand-fed imperial silkworms and beaded with bits of starlight brought back to earth on the space shuttle to be hand stitched over many months by blind Tibetan monks.  You can imagine how much that costs. 

When I began to offer my photography for sale, I did it the only way I knew how - by photographing subjects I found interesting and a little different maybe and then selecting creamy-white archival watercolor paper on which to print the finest inks.  I’m drawn to 8-ply, rather than the standard 4-ply, mats.  When framing my photographs of China, the most complementary mats seem always to be those of raw silk.  In other words, I photograph, mat and often frame things I would happily purchase to hang in my own home.  This isn’t sounding very down-to-earth or practical is it?

An Etsy teammate, a generous man and “knower-of-all-things” has suggested to me that shoppers don’t care what a photograph or piece of art is printed on because we live in a “throw-away” society.  He’s right, of course, but those words were like a cold slap in the face.  Art feels so very personal to me and I assumed it was the same for everyone.  After all, museums don’t allow visitors to touch the art precisely because so many of us are compelled to get close to those pieces that attract us.  Just like love at first sight - the attraction is either there, or it isn’t.  You might appreciate all of those beautiful boys on the beach, but chances are, face to face, that delicious hum of frisson will only occur with one...or two of them.  Closer inspection will tell you if the connection is deeper - if the colors are true, if the subject is balanced, if you are, indeed, drawn to touch and take one home.

Hmmm. I’ve gotten a little muddled here - and you must wonder:  is she talking about art now or those handsome boys on the beach?  No matter.  Maybe I’m missing the point entirely -- holding on too tightly to my own concept of art when art is so very many things.  I could print my photographs on toilet paper and they would still be interesting and unique -- though not so easy to frame perhaps.  I could forgo the satin and lace this year and wrap myself in toilet paper to go dancing on New Year’s Eve and with my middle-of-the-country practicality, use what’s left at the end of the evening in the ultimate act of re-cycling.  I suspect though, that my connection to “the finer things” is imbedded too deeply in my little strands of DNA to find much comfort in either idea.

Stop into my Etsy shop.  Look around -- you may find something that speaks to your soul -- something that will make you smile every single time you gaze at it - something that your grandchildren might come to treasure.  If you buy it, I promise you, it’s been created with care and attention to detail and made to last 100 the very least.

E. England