This is how lovely the world looked at 7 yesterday morning. It just about took my breath away to see it.
That’s the tangle of branches that by early April are kid-gloved up to their elbows in magnolia blossoms. This tree stands just outside the second-floor room where I write every day.
They were all lovely, those trees, dipped in icy batter as they were. This is the ginkgo, that weeps away its leaves all at once, within a couple of hours come fall. A video of that stunning phenomenon is here.
In sum, every view from every window was lovely. Still, the loveliest, somehow, was the sight of our neighbor’s house on that same morning, from a different window in my study. Take away the cable and phone wires and it could be a Currier & Ives print, couldn’t it though?
I’m keeping my focus in close today I think – not much past my own front yard in fact.
I need the rest.
So this is what I see these days, on the frosty autumn mornings.
I see the milky morning light as it plays on the landscape. We live on the corner so we get a good a good look around at things.
I note that the ivy is growing on our house again. How hard it was to see it all stripped off last year so the painters could paint! It’s coming back now, if slowly. It’s about up to my head where it climbs the chimney with those tenacious tendrilled fingers.
I see that the birds are vying for the last berries on the hawthorn tree…..
I see all this.
And I see these stalks of oat grass if that is even oat grass, bought at Whole Foods the people who would sell you back the dirt under your shoes if they could figure out how to get it away from you long enough for to mark it up in true Whole Paycheck style.
Still, it’s pretty, the oat grass.
I see my pumpkin, nibbled even more that it was last week by this little guy and his pals, all seeking to plump up before the real cold comes.
And speaking of the real cold, something special happened yesterday morning: The ginkgo tree lost all its leaves within an hour’s time, as is its custom.
Here is what it looks like. I just love seeing – and hearing – this happen every year. What is the ginkgo’s lesson for us do you think.
Elizabeth Taylor gave me my first lesson in how true it is that nobody likes a wise-guy. This was back in the mid-80s when face lifts were relatively rare (meaning before current times, when even the family dog is getting work done.)
Liz got some done on her jawline and then kept gaining weight so she kind of grew around it. I was mean and chilldish enough to mention this in one of my columns. What I actually said was “at least one of her chins is still pointy.”
And boy did I get a lecture! “Who do you think you are?” this one woman wrote in an angrily scrawled hand. “Where do you get off making fun of others when your eyes are beady, your teeth look false and your hair is out of style?” She could tell all that from the headshot that accompanied the column. And she was right on two counts: my eyes are beady and my hair is generally out of style but did that stop me? Nah. I then took that quote and put it on the cover of my very first book I Thought He Was a Speed Bump.
Dear Elizabeth: she couldn’t learn to stop marrying (and what did Samuel Johnson call that, the triumph of hope over experience? ) Me I couldn’t learn for the longest time stop trying to get the laugh even if it meant sometimes getting it at somebody else’s expense. She did a lot of good that lady, AND singlehandedly saved over-the-topness after we lost Liberace. I hope the lids closed easily on those amazing blue eyes.
I grew up next door to a breathtakingly beautiful girl who at age 20 sat for a formal portrait I can still see in my mind’s eye: how the light played on those lovely bare shoulders; how the dress billowed at those generous hips. That same year she married and moved away, and the next time I saw her she was hatted and high-necked with a torso encased in the tight rubber hug of a corset.
It’s what was expected of women back then; they married and overnight they turned into matrons. And though expectations for women may be subtler today, they’re still present.
Take hair color for example. Women are simply expected to color their hair at a certain point.
I always had black hair, but when some white began appearing, I thought, “OK fine.”
“But … you’re going to look old!” said my hair stylist in grave and disapproving tones.
So for a while there I had hair the color of cow’s liver – chicken gizzards maybe. My hair stylist thought it made me look young, but I hated it.
I mean you CARE about you appearance. You WANT to fit in, only … not that much, you know what I mean? I think of something former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said once in an interview. She said sometimes she dresses up, sure. “But when I work, I really work: I rub my eyes and my makeup comes off and I stick pencils in my hair.” I think that’s great.
Of course these days the pressure doesn’t stop with your hair. These days it’s not unusual for women to have the skin of their very faces sanded down, or injected with some fluffing-up drug or pried up like so much wall-to-wall carpeting and tacked down tighter.
“Stay attractive!” is the message the world sends women generally. “Slim, too! Buy great scarves if you can’t stay slim, but please: Go easy on our eyes!”
It’s what this youth-centered culture tells us. And it’s making me feel a tad rebellious.
Example: I’ve always hated pocketbooks, and the sundress I had on the other day didn’t have a belt, so I had my phone sort of hooked to my left bra strap just under the fabric.
As I chatted with the proprietor of a shop I visit every day, the phone rang, causing me to glance down at the small boxy bulge it made under the cloth.
“Does this look like a pacemaker?” I asked, suddenly wondering.
“Yup,” said my friend.
So I quick undid a key button farther down, hooked it onto the waistband of my underpants and rebuttoned. “Better?”
“Now it looks like a colostomy bag,” he said dryly.
Pacemakers, colostomy bags: the parts of our little machines do wear down over time and we’re bound to age, sure enough. I guess I’d just like to do it my way.
Catalog called As We Change comes in the mail that turns out to have such an array of fascinating items it feels like Anthropology to study it. I’m taking about things like (1) this whisker remover, to keep you from turning completely into the witch from Sleeping Beauty, (2) “The Bra Extender” for gals that haven’t in truth been a 34-B for one very long time but like preserving that fiction, and (3) “Comfy Straps” to ease the pain of having inch-deep dents worked into the tops of your shoulders from the weight of those darn breasts you’ve had carry around all these years. It” also has: (4) these nifty little bootleg shoulder-pads that attach to your bra straps to help you get past the sad fact that you can’t BUY clothes with shoulder-pads in them anymore and here you are looking like a total pear these days with hips hour-glassing out so much farther than they used to do; (5) silky little doodads called “Winkies,” small spans of cloth that modest you can stick inside the plunging necklines clothes all have these days so, and finally (6) the Super Primal Pheromone Concentrate,” (an ‘unscented elixir containing highly concentrated human sex pheromones, the natural hormonal secretions of the body that attract the opposite sex. Spike your favorite perfume or lotion with Super Primal or apply it directly to pulse points and get ready for a romantic response.’)
Ha ha, putting on sex hormones like perfume! I laughed in such superior fashion reading this whole catalog as I did from over to cover. Laughed ‘til I cried in fact; then abruptly stopped, called the 8oo number and ordered about ten things – because as the poet said once Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls, Old Girl; It Tolls For Thee! 🙂