Tag: Beauty

21Nov

Urban Ballet

This:

Mercato - 2

The morning sun scattering particles of color off of apples, handbags, and Vespas, the sky-drunk windows above, the passersby pausing to browse.

Galleria Sciarra - 4

Sudden art around every corner, hanging on the pause between footsteps; beauty so extravagant it leaves its imprint like sun-stars on your mind.

Read More »

14Nov

The Long Exhale

It’s here, in the collective slump after the girls have been tucked into bed and the dishes washed (or ignored, as was almost certainly the case tonight), when the clock picks up a stray echo from the shadows and my thoughts begin to puddle, it’s here in the long exhale of evening that I most often wonder if I’m any closer to becoming myself than I was one year ago, or two, or five.

I can’t remember a time when this question of identity wasn’t waiting under cover of tiredness to command my attention. It carries a pocket reel of my day and winds through it in reverse. There I am, tripping my way through a chapter of Pippi Longstocking in Italian as the girls color snowflakes and pajama cuffs purple. There I am paying bills, scanning documents, and rearranging euros among spreadsheet boxes as if their military gray borders will hold our finances in place. There I am pushing a grocery cart between produce bins of green, all the while pining for the green of the park and that elusive half hour just for running. There I am, pen in hand at the tip of dawn, trying to make out if my words will fly in formation or startle into a flurry of nothingness today.

Intentional living has never been the problem. I was raised on it, taught to imprison every minute with my mind and reform it into something of eternal significance, and that pressure to force every moment into a holy mold still bullies the way I think. It is exasperatingly difficult for me to simply appreciate life in all its organic, beauty-steeped mystery. Cultivating wonder can be as challenging for me as cramming for a final, and cultivating self is even further from the comforts of routine and right answers.

I’m on my own trail, though; I can tell. My feet are finding familiarity in new landscapes, a heady déjà vu, and I have enough clarity left over to look my question of identity in the eyes when he finishes the reel, thank him for his concern, and wish him goodnight without ever needing to mold our moment into an answer.

7Nov

Cinnamon Steam

Right now:

Open windows

Pumpkin spice latte

Diamond-cut air

Fall daisies

~~~

Every window in the house wide open to the diamond-cut morning air.

Pumpkin spice latte with cinnamon steam.

Tendrils of wood smoke and the rustle of olive nets, hallmarks of November in Umbria.

The new Mumford & Sons—soul-shiveringly good.

Daisies, orange and fuchsia.

Facebook closed.

~~~

What is your “right now?”

5Jun

Dosing

I’m fighting it hard today, the smothering despair simultaneously manufactured and feared by my own mind. Yesterday, I couldn’t fight. With the slow approach of rain, my inner world drained of color, and I only knew how to mimic the motions of the living… vocalize polite response, bring fork to mouth, place one foot in front of the other. This morning, the sun rose again, a diluted but obvious yellow, and I’m breathing instinctually again—a mercy, this. But what if tomorrow dawns gray again? What if the next wave of this infernal springtime virus is already gathering speed? There are so many unknown days ahead, and I’ve rarely felt so utterly tapped out of resources.

We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming around here lately, sketching out possible paths down which to channel our energy. This freedom to chart our own course is one of the luxuries we have as a freelancing family (other “luxuries” include paying a million percent in self-employment taxes, just in case you were toying with jealousy), but it also scares me into an off-kilter pendulum swing between hope and despondence. On the hopeful upswing, I start to catch some of my husband’s optimism and see the intersection between creativity and success. I fill notebook pages with ideas that energize me. I put days on end into researching how I can best use this word-besotted brain of mine to benefit both the world and our bank account.

The downswing seems inevitable though. At some point in my reading, I suddenly start to see others’ successes as intimidation rather than inspiration. It occurs to me that everything worth writing has already been written and that pursuing any of my projects would be like trying to nose my way into an already-overcrowded party. My old friends Self-Doubt and Shame see their opportunity here and jump in to convince me that not only do I have nothing special to offer the world, I’m a burden to it. Dead weight. Dan offers to make me an iced coffee, and I have a minor crisis because what have I ever done that makes me worthy of a coffee? That’s at least ten cents in ingredients right there, not to mention preparation time, and what about the labor that went into picking the coffee beans, what about the sun or rain or slow seasonal whisperings that coaxed them into growth? What about the electricity it takes to freeze the ice? How can Dead Weight Me warrant even a single drop?

This kind of thought degeneration would be comical if it weren’t so devastating to live through. I would never in a million years tell a fellow stay-at-home mom that she didn’t deserve the roof over her head just because she wasn’t bringing in as much income as her husband. I would never tell her that her significance and value were tied to her career, much less that only a self-made, wholly unique, preferably award-winning career would count. I would never expect her to view a cup of coffee as unjustified.

Instead, I would bust out the metaphorical pompoms and deliver one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes with a few high kicks and some glitter paint: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” I would assure her that her interests and ideas do matter and that, unless her life goal is plagiarism, she absolutely does have something unique to offer the world. The way she talks, creates, and thinks are a gift—unless, of course, the way she thinks leads to a biannual spiral of self-loathing, in which case she really might want to get that checked out.

I hold myself to a different standard than I hold anyone else though, and in my own cramped construct, sick days are failure, brain fog is failure, clutter is failure, mood swings are failure. It’s all failure, all the time on the mental channel that’s been blaring on and off for the last few weeks, and oh lord, what I wouldn’t give for silence. I’m in honest-to-goodness awe of those of you who know how to quiet your minds; I only get about five seconds in to a meditation exercise before my failure alarm starts screeching about how laughably bad I am at achieving inner peace, and then a second alarm joins in to berate me for letting that first one disrupt my serenity, and by the thirty second mark, I can’t hear myself think a single distinguishable thought.

If you’re nodding your head in commiseration right now… I’m so sorry. I have nothing in the form of advice and only the faintest inklings of how to steady my own incomprehensible self against the pendulum. So far, I’ve ruled out chewing tobacco and daytime TV, but only just. In fact, I only have one idea right now that strikes a chord with both mind and heart, and it’s this: over on Instagram and Twitter, I’m going to revive my outdated experiment in capturing a #dailydoseofbeauty. Snapping pictures with my phone is the kind of meditation I can rock right now, and my hope is that even this fragmented focus on gratitude and grace will grow into something larger than myself with its own steady pulse of joy, something that can slip me silent past the alarms and the fight and back into this beautiful land of the living where I belong.

Starting… now:

A daily dose of beauty

Opening our front door is so sweet this time of year. #dailydoseofbeauty

~~~

What do you think? Would you care to join me? (Please do!)

20Apr

Beauty in the Rough

Easter 2012 Part 4 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

It’s been one of our rougher weeks here at the Casa di Bassett, and as I’m sure most bloggers can attest to, writing anything can feel impossible when you’re not at liberty to share the circumstances weighing on you. Thus the silence around here, heavy with words unwritten and whisperings of failure. As always, though, beauty heals. I’ve spent a lot of time this week watching clouds shift and meld over church spires, strawberry blossoms bob in the wind, and my daughters’ eyes sparkle with imagination. Noticing the duet of art and grace in the world around me has a unique way of lifting the weight from my lungs, and this, beyond anything else, is the reason we returned to the Amalfi Coast this Easter.

This was our third April to camp under the lemon trees, and though lugging our summer home up a mountainside is the stuff that expletives are made of, the view from our tent… well, you can see for yourself:

Minori from the parking area

The way those four elements—sky, land, village, and sea—interact together along the coast, beautiful in equal and dizzying measure, fills my capacity for happiness to the brim. We all seem to find better versions of ourselves in between the blue of the sky and the blue of the water… even when both turn to gunmetal gray and thunderstorms burst open above our heads. “Can we go swing?” the girls begged once the thunder had rumbled away drawing a thick curtain of rain in its wake. Me At Home wouldn’t have even considered it. Me At The Amalfi Coast zipped up their waterproof jackets and called “Have fun!”

The girls taking a break from hiking

That’s the Me I’m conjuring up today when life seems to have a big fat F stamped on it. Not that it’s as easy as pulling up a few photos and exhaling stress into the pixilated sky, but the beauty still soothes what’s raw, lightens what’s dim. It helps. And so if you’re having one of your own rougher weeks (or days, or decades), then this is for you and me both:

10Apr

Unplugged

We were supposed to have Wi-Fi. It was one of the two features I insisted on for last week’s vacation rental. Number one was a parking spot—every car deserves at least a fighting chance of surviving Naples intact—and number two was connection with the outside world. I know it’s healthy to unplug every once in a while, but I’ve learned a few things about myself and isolation over the years, and… well, let me just turn you over to the post I wrote last Monday. In light of the following seven Wi-Fi-less days, I’m titling it Irony.

~~~

Monday, April 02, 2012

Late-afternoon sunbeams sprawl through the open doorway and across my toes, painted a sugared lavender in honor of these first barefoot days. I’m starting to think, however, that I should have gone with orange. It’s everywhere in this Neapolitan villa—tangerine curtains, sunburst floors, goldfish prints swimming across mango walls—and I wish I were unabashed enough to do the same in our own home. This color, it’s the only invitation I need to waltz wholemindedly into Easter break.

Orange in Naples

In the absence of orange Neapolitan villas, I’m notoriously bad at vacation. This will come as no surprise to any of you, but it’s easier for me to leave my toothpaste than my productivity complex back at home. Even my usual blogging hiatus turns into a form of obligation, a must carpe every damn diem teethgrit no matter how far behind my self-awareness starts to lag. So this, lounging in tandem with the sunlight and letting my fingers stretch long on the keys, is my highest form of rebellion for the week.

Our vacation rental is nestled in a maze of farm roads on the slopes of Vesuvius, and from the living room sofa, I can see past the tips of lightly fuzzing peach trees and across the rooftops of Naples to where ships weave silver tracks in the bay. We’re high above clamor and hurry, time trilled away by birds flitting through a bower of wisteria blossoms just off the terrace. I never thought I could feel so completely relaxed in a city whose streets jolt the afterlife in and out of focus, but here I am. Purring.

 Room with a view

~~~

Oh yes, there is more to come. See you tomorrow, same time, same place?

P.S. – It’s crazy good to be back.

27Feb

How I Talk to Little Girls (And Why)

It popped up on my Facebook feed last summer once, twice, fifteen times before I started seeing it discussed on prominent blogs. Entire circles of social media lit up at once in a universal Aha! moment at the idea that we are doing a grave disservice to little girls when we compliment their beauty. Lisa Bloom’s article is fascinating and powerful (if you haven’t read it yet, it’s well worth three minutes of your time!), and I am grateful that voices like hers are being heard over the endless glittery din of beauty propaganda. I appreciate her point that commenting on a girl’s beauty disrespects her mind and sets her up for a lifetime of body image issues. However, I also disagree.

I grew up within an extreme religious subculture that required parents to squelch their parental instincts in favor of specific protocol. Our lifestyle encouraged education and Colonial-era homemaking skills while discouraging physical beauty, so most of the compliments I heard growing up fell under the category of accomplishments. My parents freely celebrated my brains and talents, but what I heard even more acutely was the silence when I’d model a new dress.

We didn’t have a television and I wasn’t allowed to look at magazine covers at the grocery store, but some innate girlish part of me had an idea of what beautiful looked like, and I knew it wasn’t me. Few things throughout my childhood hurt as badly as looking in the mirror each morning and feeling sure that if I were even the tiniest bit pretty, someone would have mentioned it to me. I despised my fair skin, my strawberry-blonde hair, and my gangly legs with their perpetually skinned knees, and I absolutely loathed the freckles splattered across my cheeks. In fact, I carried such a low view of my appearance with me to university that I had no response the first time a classmate told me I was beautiful. Clearly, the man was a few fries short of a Happy Meal. (Love you, dear!)

Self-esteem is an ongoing issue for me, but I determined early on not to pass my history of mirror-hate on to my two daughters. The first half of my strategy is by far the hardest: appreciating myself. Every disparaging comment I make about my figure, every gesture of disgust or embarrassment, every dismissal of compliments is soaked up immediately by my girls’ big blue eyes, and it’s scary as hell to remember that I am their introduction course to womanhood. My words about myself will affect what they see in the mirror for their entire lives, and you know what? That day when they survey their own stretch-marked mama bodies and feel like someone rearranged them without their consent and consider the merits of muu-muus and wonder where to even begin with the concealer, even then they will be radiantly beautiful. Which means I have to accept the possibility that I am too.

The other part of my strategy is less about reversing thought patterns and more about giving my instincts permission to love unabashedly. My girls are both artistic, imaginative, curious, and kind; they do brave things and learn from mistakes, and I let them know how much I admire them for it. They are also beautiful. It’s the truth, and my defense against mother-bias is that I’ve never met a little girl who wasn’t beautiful. Their innocence and mischief, their uninhibited smiles, the darling gaps of missing teeth, the residual glow from heaven’s handprint… pure beauty, yes?

I can’t keep such precious, transformative truth a secret, so I tell them. I talk with my daughters about books and brains, but I also let them know how their loveliness fills my eyes to overflowing. It’s just a comment here or there, nothing pre-meditated, but when their daddy smiles proud and tells them they’re beautiful, both six-year-old Natalie and four-year-old Sophie respond in delight: “I know!” There is no trace either of self-deprecation or of conceit (though I’m working with them on a more socially acceptable response) and not even a whisper of wishing they were different. They are beautiful, just as themselves, and they know it.

I follow the same philosophy when talking to the girls’ friends. Their appearances are never the focus of conversation, but I also don’t ignore their new haircuts or sparkling smiles or the outfits they cheerfully cobbled together themselves. I am all too aware of the images and ads that will dog them their whole lives about not being skinny or tan or fashionable enough, and I hope that my voice carries more than its share of weight when it tells them that they are enough. Even in first grade, they are inside-and-out beautiful, and I want them to know this to their core before marketing campaigns try to convince them otherwise.

I believe that we are doing a grave disservice to little girls when we ignore any part of who they are in an effort to control their priorities. I believe that our instinct to celebrate their loveliness in addition to their intelligence and courage and talent exists because we are meant to be holistic beings—soul, spirit, mind, and body. I believe that beauty and brains are in no way mutually exclusive and that we need to stop perpetuating the myth of Either-Or. I believe that our children need to hear every bit of the good we see in them and need to hear it often enough to start answering from a place too far within them for media onslaughts to touch…“I know!”

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