Butterfly Mind

Ramble on

Finally, fall. The weather hasn’t caught up to the calendar yet — the sweat dripping down my back when I walked the garden this morning told me it is summer not autumn — but the equinox was yesterday, a hot wind is blowing, and leaves have started falling from trees. There’s no break from the heat in the forecast, but it will come. It has to.

I’m done with the active part of the year. I’ve weeded, planted, planned, sailed, vacationed, worked, annual meetinged. Now, like the garden all dried up and gone to seed, I too am spent. I’ve let the beds grow wild, I haven’t cut things back. Enjoy the seed heads, little goldfinches; grow and be free, little weeds. I’m finished with labor for now.

My energy is all used up and it’s time to turn inward: my favorite time of the year. I haven’t written here in ages, first because I started exercising in the morning instead of writing, and then I started working in the morning instead of exercising. I’m not sure if I’ll change that right now. I haven’t been in the mood to write, and I haven’t forced it. But today, recovering from the flu and knowing I need to rest, I felt the urge.

So much has happened since I last wrote, yet so little has changed. Caterpillars still munch away in the garden, and chrysalises surprise me everywhere. There are four tucked under the stair railing, two in the rue, one on a stool in the garage. My birthday came and went, and brought with it sweet treats from my family: an adorable Tilley bucket hat, the Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack on vinyl, a new board game from my son, Betrayal at House on the Hill, which delights me because it reminds me of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (a book I love). I also bought myself some things I’ve been putting off for over a year because I’d been saving for travel to Jamaica with my girlfriends and a trip to NYC with my mom. It was wonderful to finally catch up on basics like socks and nice hand lotion, but my favorite purchase was a cotton sweater from Land’s End. I’ve got about 5 wool sweaters, all of which are scratchy and make me itch, and I just wanted a comfy throw on. I wore it every evening in Canada at our company’s Grand Meetup, and I want the weather to cool down at home so I can wear it some more.

One of the ways I turn inward in the fall is to return to things I know I love. No more exploring: give me what I know will make me happy. I’m over my reading project for now and am on a re-reading spree instead. On my flight to Canada I read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto again. What a glorious book! It is filled with beauty. So much beauty I can hardly stand it.

It was October 22 and so it was a cold autumn rain and the streets were waxed in a paper-thin layer of wet red leaves.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The beauty in the book goes beyond the language of the author and the soaring voice of the central character, though those contribute significantly to it. The beauty lies in the absolute transcendence of barriers — spoken language, politics, nationality — when it comes to human beings coming to know one another in an intimate setting, in this case hostages and terrorists sequestered away for months in the Vice President’s mansion in an unnamed Latin American country, and loving one another with a purity I’m not sure I’ve encountered in any other work of literature.

Patchett wrote a passage that I remember brought me solace the first time I read the book, too:

Some people are born to make great art and others are born to appreciate it. Don’t you think? It is a kind of talent in itself, to be an audience, whether you are the spectator in the gallery or you are listening to the voice of the world’s greatest soprano. Not everyone can be the artist. There have to be those who witness the art, who love and appreciate what they have been privileged to see.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

All my life when I’ve witnessed something I appreciate, something that moved me — painting, photography, dance, literature — I’ve thought, “I want to create like that, too!” And then I’ll try, and I’ll realize how much diligence and practice and talent it takes, and I loathe myself for not being amazing at it and I beat myself up and think I’m no good at anything.

Understanding and valuing beauty, though, and being moved by it? I can do that. I excel at it. I live for it. Especially when it comes to appreciating fine writing. This passage from Bel Canto tells me my role as witness and lover and appreciator is valuable. Is useful. Is needed. What is the point of art if there’s nobody there to understand and admire it? This passage not only gives me permission to appreciate beauty in art, but it encourages me to, without me needing to create art myself.

I have a role to play in art, and that’s really all I want. I don’t have to be the creator, I just want to be a part of it.

Now I’ve moved to appreciating another gorgeous work: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I can’t believe I lived 40 years without reading Donna Tartt. What a gift to find her! I wrote about The Goldfinch the first time I read it, and unfortunately as I look back on my blog, I see that I also went into a reading spiral after finishing it. Nothing could follow it. I’m not going to think about that now, though. I’m just going to enjoy being utterly wrecked by this book. It’s a long one, too. I’ll get to savor it for a while.

I hope this makes sense — I still have flu-mind and was feeling quite fuzzy as I tried to proofread.