Mirror, Mirror…

Maybe I should cover up those mirrors…

Mirror, mirror…

It must be the frosted glass shades that soften the light of the LEDs in the brass light fixtures in my downstairs bathroom.

The lights above the two large oval mirrors shine down from above. That bathroom had two sinks when we moved in, and I didn’t even think of reducing those to one when we redid it – I should have, and I should have put the laundry there also – live and learn – I’ll never be able to afford redoing it now, unless I win the lottery.

The lights are quite bright, despite those white glass shades.

Every time I catch a glimpse of my face in one of those mirrors, lit by those lights, I see a beautiful woman.

I think, “damn, Annie, you’re cute! You’re beautiful!”

So I try to take a selfie that won’t show me holding my phone, taking a selfie.

And in the photo of me, taken when I think I look gorgeous, I see a hag, a crone, with wrinkles and sallow skin.

What’s going on here?

Do I own magic mirrors?

Is the camera in my phone defective?

Maybe I should cover those mirrors.

You must know of that wonderful film called “My Brilliant Career” where the protagonist, an independent, unusual young woman in late 19th century Australia, played by Judy Davis, becomes despondent about her life and prospects, believing she is plain, and frustrated with efforts to marry her off – until a wiser older woman she is visiting covers all the mirrors in her house, forcing that young woman to realize that her character, intelligence, sense of humor and grace make her attractive. And, spoiler alert, she does attract a really nice man, but ends up turning him down to maintain her independence and pursue her dream of being a writer.

Covering up the mirrors was a good idea. I’m going to stop taking selfies in good light with a bad camera, and I’m going to stop being so concerned looking my age.

I’m going to walk through the world believing I am the beautiful woman I see in my magic mirror, remembering that it is intelligence, wit, grace and the kindness I am trying to convey that might make me attractive. I’m going to believe that my belief in myself will make others believe I am beautiful, too – inside and out.

I’ve seen a few photos of me, lately (taken by my brother, at a Cubs game, with a better camera than mine) where I look, um, unobjectionable. Tolerable. Even, dare I say it, attractive? In them I look relaxed, confident, happy, like I’m having fun (and who doesn’t have fun on a sunny day at Wrigley?) and like I’m not concerned about what others think about me – only concerned about having fun with the people I’m with, in that moment.

And I have seen a photo of me having fun by myself, last night, celebrating my acceptance into a rigorous Chicago area choral group. I was actually trying to use my camera as a mirror (oops) to discreetly reapply lipstick (see “Middle-Aged Woman Rules”) while sitting at an outside table at a local restaurant, straining to see – which struck me as funny – and remembering how appalled my Grandfather, Father and brothers would be, me putting on lipstick IN PUBLIC, for God’s sake, which also struck me as funny. These men believed, and those still with us still believe, that ladies are supposed to excuse themselves to do that, elsewhere. Unseen. Just come back looking better and let whoever you are with try to figure out why.

So I was laughing about that, and about bothering to put lipstick on in the dark, trying to use my phone’s reversible camera as a mirror, and I accidentally snapped a selfie.

And here’s what I found on my phone today:

IMG_20180816_195917.jpg

Not too shabby, huh? Bad light and all?

Actually, I messed with the photo to brighten it up and somehow managed to delete the original before it was backed up, so I messed with this one to try to darken it back down to look like it looked originally. Whatever. You get the idea. I look happy, relaxed and unworried about being ridiculous, taking a selfie in the dark.

Mike found me when I had stopped looking, or at least when I had made peace with the possibility of never finding “the one.” And then he showed up.

He helped me understand that I didn’t have to try so hard, that I would be more attractive if I just chilled out a little, enjoyed the moment and took the pressure off.

His favorite picture of me was taken on our honeymoon, in the morning, before make-up, where I thought I looked disheveled and washed-out.

He loved it because he thought it revealed in my face my innocent heart, undisguised by artifice or excessive concern with my looks. He saw ME when he saw me, and he loved what he saw.

I’ll take another look at that picture from time to time, to remind myself that there’s someone inside me, behind the lipstick, worthy of being loved.

In the meantime I want to be the kind of person who has that effect on others – reminding them with a smile or a conversation that they are seen, that they are loved, that they are worthy of love – and that they are beautiful.

I’m sure you’ve seen that viral video by Shea, from Chicago, of people’s reactions when they are told they are beautiful, and all the others inspired by it, so I didn’t link any of them here – but if you haven’t seen them, just search “people react to being told they are beautiful.”

My Secret Azalea – or, Inside Out

It can only be seen from inside the house.

The ferns surrounded it, in lush, leafy hug.

And that made me smile.

It was a really good spring for my rhodo and my azaleas – lovely, abundant blooms. I put this one where it is last year so that there would be something evergreen to look at just outside there in the winter, even if it got buried by snow for a time.

I didn’t expect this abundance of ferns to swallow it up in the spring, but I like the effect.

It reminds me to keep something blooming within, even if others can’t see it right away.

Not until I let them in.

The garden is still a work in progress; it looks okay from the outside, but still needs a few more shrubs and perennials to fill in and squeeze out the weeds so I don’t have to spend so much time digging those out. Could use some mulch, too; I’m not much in the mood or the position to spend more money on it right now, so those things will come a little at a time.

The blooms on my secret azalea have gone by since I took the photo, but its leaves are there and will still be there there when the ferns fade. Maybe in a few years, it will even grow taller than the feathery, fluffy chaos around it.

My secret azalea reminded me that kindness implies a kind of trust – or faith, if you want to call it that – that those toward whom it is directed will benefit, be softened, encouraged, cheered, made hopeful, whatever,  but also that kindness directed from the inside out is always worth it, even if it isn’t received that way immediately, or ever, even. Being kind provides a sort of stillness, a type of calm, a sense of perspective, that is healing to me, regardless. Tends my inner garden.

My secret azalea reminded me that what’s going on inside affects what’s outside; that beauty within radiates outward, where it affects the world around it.

Let’s face it, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve figured out that I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve type. It isn’t really possible for me to hide my feelings. I send out a vibe, even when I don’t want to. So I have to work on that, pretty much constantly, trying and failing and trying again to send out a good vibe, to be kind, to be positive, to grow into the person I want to be, every moment, because every moment is precious, a gift.

In the words of my literary hero, Jack Aubrey, “there’s not a moment to lose.”

So no pity-parties, please. Fall of the horse, get right back on, keep going. The sun rises.

And the music plays.

I work at a place where I can listen to music, often at a good strong volume, all day – and sing along to it, and no one seems to mind. Or at least they put up with it. Most of the day the place is fairly empty, requiring manual (or forklift driven) labor. I’ve even got a sort of little fan club, that comes in once a week to do what they need to do, who caught me singing once and now seem to look forward to it each week.

The variety of music available is wide – classic rock, ’80s music, stations based on Journey (HA! sing like Steve Perry! who’s with me?) or the Eagles, or REM or Emmylou or Bruce Springsteen – everything from country to opera. Although it is hard to find a mix that always satisfies, I’ve found some really good stations that have brought back songs to me that I hadn’t thought about in years – good, cathartic, cryin’ songs, songs of hope, songs that put things in perspective. And arias – but don’t worry, I only rock the Puccini when the place is empty. Although come to think of it, Puccini, (O Mio Babbino Caro, to be exact) is what got the fan club going.

Remember that movie, Network News, where Holly Hunter, playing a news producer, would set aside a few minutes each day to just take the phone off the hook (hey, it was made in 1987 and set mostly in 1981 – landlines!) and just bawl her eyes out? Then she’d pull it together and get right back to work.

I’m a big fan of the good cry. And of getting right back to work.

During Mike’s illness, I did most of my crying in the car – car crying – because I didn’t want our child to see it and get upset, and I didn’t want to make Mike feel sad, or worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle things.

Now, I cry a lot less, but when I need to let it out, it often happens when I’m in the warehouse, cleaning or closing up, inspired by one of those great songs I had forgotten about, and it helps – it helps a lot. It helps reconcile the inside with the outside; harmonizing with the songs harmonizes me, in a way. Even if a lot of these songs seems sad, that’s not the point – the point is they give me a sort of cleansing that makes me feel better, calmer, stronger. Sing, cry, dry, work.

In no particular order, songs that came up that helped me “take the phone off the hook,” feel what I feel, let it out, and then pull it together and carry on include:

  • Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart For A While
  • The Eagles’ Peaceful, Easy Feelin’
  • Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, Cowboy Take Me Away, Not Ready to Back Down 
  • Iris DeMent’s Our Town (she was a discovery for me – hadn’t heard her before)
  • Any version of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide
  • Long, Long Time, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Shenandoah’s Ghost in this House,  sung by Alison Krauss (really, anything sung by Alison Krauss – Down in the River to Pray, Long Lost Friend, etc.
  • Softly and Tenderly, sung by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt

and the one that kind of sums up what I learned from losing Mike, and why I’m trying to grow in to a better, kinder, more loving person:

When We’re Gone, sung by Emmylou, Dolly and Linda –

…”And when we’re gone, long gone,
the only thing that will have mattered
is the love that we shared
and the way that we cared
when we’re gone, long gone….”

This song helps me remember there’s not a moment to lose, and not to skimp on love – it helps me nourish my inner, secret azalea, gives me hope that what blooms within will radiate out as love, as kindness, and as hope, one precious moment at a time.

May you find the music that gives you hope and peace, as this song does for me.