You know that thing people say when they’re trying to make sense of the nonsensical? I could never get behind it. They knowingly evoke the Universe, saying, Everything happens for a reason. Oh it seems so trite and overused I could spit.
So as much as it pains me to admit it, I am of late turning on the receptors and tuning in to signs. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a bit more sleep, the tide of stress is ebbing, and we’re in the easy chair of August that I’m just noticing more, but it seems they’re everywhere. Unexpected conversations, cleverly-placed objects. Someone I keep bumping into. A situation I can’t change.
Signs that whisper, This way. Yoo hoo, you’re meant to go this way.
|, 1912. Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki|
One day after I’d brought my class to Les Abattoirs, Toulouse’s contemporary art museum, I took a few sleep-deprived minutes to browse the store. A couple of postcards featuring the artist Helene Schjerfbeck jumped out at me, and I thought, Who is that, who on earth is that angel who escaped my attention until now?
|Costume Picture II, 1909. Ateneum|
So I uncovered Helene’s work — she was Finnish, and worked in France for a time — which then led me to this extraordinary website championing women artists. I know what I’ll be up to this afternoon. And tomorrow, and the day after that . . .
|Self-Portrait with Palette I, 1937. Moderna Museet, Stockholm|
Nice work, Universe.
Some signs appear like confirmations. A few months ago, we visited friends who’d recently had a baby. Just the day before, I’d got my ukulele out for the first time in over half a year, to learn a few chords and strumming patterns. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I'm longing to play. And there, in the corner of our friends’ little house, sat a ukulele, in a case identical to mine. A sign, I thought. Confirmation. Do it. Yes, do it.
Here’s another: Le petit garçon and I were reading recently, and I saw this, which would totally have escaped my notice six months ago. It seemed to say, Recognize this? A little reward for all your hard work lately.
|from Astérix Legionnaire. Albert Uderzo & Rene Goscinny, 1967.|
Some signs are suggestions, and I’m so glad to get them. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing lately, and it’s a stagnant August in France. I need a nudge.
Last week at the library I came upon this wall where people put up notes offering services or searching for piano lessons, art lessons, an odd jobs person, a room in the country in exchange for English conversation. I was inspired to leave my own note.
|like bibliothèque, or discothèque, or mediathèque… but for partaking!|
I love the mix: effort, followed by throwing the ball up in the air and just seeing where it lands. Lay the groundwork, set the stage, and then stand back and allow fate — OK, The Universe — to do its thing. Already I've had responses from Lionel, Nicolas, and Lola. Who knows what might happen?
On another museum visit, I saw the work of Eduardo Chillida who referenced the philosopher Gaston Bachelard. Household to the French, perhaps, but only vaguely familiar to me. Where had I heard his name before? Aha! The Poetics of Space. That book Michael Howard introduced us to back in his painting class in Seattle. Howard’s paintings of houses made my heart leap then, and it turns out they still steal my breath. Could it be time to revisit them?
|Michael Howard: 156 Herman, 2011. Thanks to Prographica/KDR Gallery, Seattle.|
|Harman Site, 2011|
|764 Maddock (Daly City), 2013|
And another. After visiting my morning farmer’s markets last Saturday I ended my errands at the co-op. A man in a dapper cap stopped me after I’d paid and said, Look, your basked is so beautiful, the arrangement of colors. Definitely worth a photograph. I hadn’t really thought of it till then, and I looked down to discover he was right.
But I’m not always sure how to read signs. Some seem to say Do This Now; others forewarn; still others are gently-placed prompts: I see that you’re a little lost. This is important.
In one common scenario, and I don’t like to admit this, a “sign” appears too demanding or scary so I just pretend I don’t hear anything. Not now. Don’t contradict my plans. And don’t you dare try to tell me Everything Happens for a Reason.
For perspective on coping with the Universe’s less pleasant offerings, I turned as I sometimes do to Improvised Life, which offered another option: What might be the hidden lesson or value in this situation? This seems like it sucks. It DOES suck. But could there be a veiled message here?
I love this approach. I have long imagined I have a committee of angels who present things to me, sometimes clear, other times obscure, to guide me.
I vehemently resist physical signs, the things beyond my control. But alas they seem to abound lately. At the end of a usual run recently a strain surfaced in my left calf. I waited several days, then a week. After two weeks I thought, OK, this is getting ridiculous, I’m going to lose my mojo. So I tried, but after ten minutes I felt that familiar pang and knew I had to stop. Two weeks became three, then more easily four, and here we are over a month later.
After engaging in a good dose of annoyance followed by self-pity, it occurred to me that maybe this was my body saying, Yo, quit this, you’re not 20, you can’t burn candles at every end and expect to just keep sallying forth. Take it easy. And even if you don't rest, you’ve got other shit to take care of, so go spend some time on that.
During significant foot surgery some years ago, I — who assumed that my life (and the size of my body, which I equated with basic worth) depended on maintaining physical activity — learned that great things can happen when one gets off one’s feet and sits on one’s ass for a while. You go slow. Or ask for help. You have time to rearrange your closets and throw out all the clothes that don’t spark joy and never look back. You read more poetry, and drink coffee and read the entire Chronicles of Narnia.
So maybe The Universe is saying Be careful about getting too obsessed, particularly about conflating body size with value. That’s a dangerous road you’re starting down, so your committee is removing it from your options for a spell.
Besides, it’s too hot to run anyway. A forbidding forecast calls for Sweltering for the foreseeable future. What might be that hidden value? They’re in cahoots, the weather and my calf, saying, You’re not invincible. Life is short. Check your motivation. Take a little break, and come back refreshed and restored.
So I suppose that this summer all signs point to Attention. Everyone’s out of town, or closed, or unavailable. Boo hoo hoo — I could really get down about this. But on the other hand, no one’s asking me for anything, either. And right here, today, in this moment, I am totally fine, and actually quite comfortable. The fan is on me, it’s not too stuffy in my little corner. I can sit with this anxiety about the heat that’s to come. Will the future arrive in the form I think it will anyway? The Universe seems to be saying: Embrace this life, this body, this one that’s right here, this moment and then the next, when it arrives.
A song lands in my head. Molly gave it to me some years ago, and that’s no coincidence.
Enjoy yourself / It’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself / while you’re still in the pink
The years go by / as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself enjoy yourself / It’s later than you think.