That’s how NPR described the place Lucinda Williams writes and sings from. It might seem weird to tout her new double album that so beautifully catalogs regret and misery and loneliness in this month of holly jolliness, but she bears witness to the human condition with the whisky, graveled voice of gritty truth. She’s the bitter night that shepherds endure alone. She’s the long dark night of the soul of anyone who has to go through this holiday alone. She’s the lonesome train that passes through town in the middle of the night. Put this music in someone’s stocking this year — someone who has a stand-up soul and is willing to go down to where the spirit meets the bone.
A book I’ve been reading describes winter as a time to be “scoured.” An odd description, but step out into a winter wind on a bleak day and you can feel Nature’s abrasive being applied to your body and soul. The banana tree that put out leaves so lavishly this summer in its turquoise pot has been scoured by the cold weather. Hidden among its drab brown remains are the shafts of green leaves caught in mid-unfurling and left hanging with summer unfulfilled. But still. The green is there like a hidden message for anyone who looks past the dead foliage to the tree’s core. Even as we layer up in fleece and parkas and hunch our shoulders against the razoring winds, I believe “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” is in us too, still alive, still waiting quietly to race through our bones and blood in a great spring shout.
I love dusk. Movers and shakers, early birds and go-getters recommend greeting the dawn if you’re going to develop the Truly Boring Habits of the Highly Successful. But I love the winding down time when the day is taking off its bra, putting on its pajamas, having a cocktail and curling up on the couch to read a book. If Dusk had a voice, it would sound like Lauren Bacall. If it had a theme song, it would be by John Coltrane. If it had a perfume, it would be called Wood Smoke. It’s liminal time, when the earth is holding its breath for a few heartbeats before eventide rolls in. Dusk — the magic hour.
I think “meh” is one of the most annoying, contemptuous expressions around. Meh is too bored to be bothered, too sophisticated to break a sweat, too jaded to jump for joy. And yet, I find that I’m dangerously close to developing a Meh state of mind. Go to that play? It’s too much effort to order the tickets, wear something besides sweatpants and find a parking place. Send a handwritten note? An email is good enough — after all, it’s the thought that counts. Throw a little party? It’s so much easier not to. I know myself too well to think I’ll suddenly leave home to hike the Pacific Coast Trail, but I want to be the kind of person who says “Yes” more often than “Meh.” Yes, I do! Yes, I will! Yes, I accept!
I love hanging a fresh wreath on my door because in the dead of winter, evergreens offer hope that the earth is not truly dead, that spring will come again. Instead of a tree, I’ll put up strings of Frida-style felt flowers in the doorways as a sign that the real ones will be back with the sun. I’ll listen to music about snowmen and wise men and presents under the tree. And I’ll burn all the candles in my house to hold back the dark and summon the solstice. When we spend so much time staring into computer/phone/tablet screens, at work under fluorescent bulbs or cooped up in cities that obscure the stars, it’s easy to forget the cycle of birth, death, growth and harvest that’s always happening around us. The wreath reminds me to watch for the full moon every month, to pay attention to the birds that come to my feeder, to notice the nuance of light throughout the day, to inhale the essence of the forest, to remember my mother, the earth.
I’m not a church-goer or Bible-believer, but I’ve always wished I’d look over my shoulder and glimpse an angel on the loose. Maybe a feathered wing tip just brushing past the living room window or a shadow rushing over the ground like an airplane passing overhead. In my mind, angels would be super-sized, XXL heavenly action figures creating shock and awe if you were lucky enough to see one. I imagine their assignments being passed out every morning, their homework for the day covering everything from here to eternity: lost children and lonely hearts, battered hopes and broken dreams, first breaths and last ones. I hope they’re out there — EMTs of the spirit, a celestial SWAT team, a school of guardian angels. There’s no one here on earth who couldn’t use one.
When I stopped working full-time, I decided I’d start the day by reading something that inspired me, interested me or taught me something new. I designated the oversized blue chair in my home office as the spot where I’d drink a cup of coffee and do some writing and reading every morning. The broad, capacious chair was originally purchased at a yard sale by a friend and passed on to me. It was upholstered in a nondescript old-fashioned print, and I had it recovered in a beautiful pale turquoise fabric with white flowers from Maine Cottage. With wide embracing arms, it looks like a chair made to dream in. I made it a digital-free zone and spent my mornings with a books, a pot of pens and a notebook. I underlined sentences and wrote in margins and marked favorite passages with sticky notes. I got lost in poems and the past, read natural history and studied spirituality. I began to rediscover slow time. But gradually I started to take on freelance assignments with deadlines, scheduled iCal meetings and coffee with friends and stopped visiting the blue chair. The “real world” called. The world where it’s important to have a job description, a business card, a purpose. Where it’s necessary to be busy, be visible, be a striver, a doer, a maker. This week I noticed that the stack of books on the arm of the chair hasn’t been whittled away or added to for months. An orange zafu meditation cushion I never use is sitting where I used to, and the rest of the chair has become a temporary way station for a revolving collection of jackets, purses and shopping bags. It’s time to clear out the mundane, make room for the magic and keep an overdue date with the blue chair.