So, I biked along in my insanely impractical biking outfit (a lovely knee-length peasant skirt that kept blowing up around my waist and an embroidered top with an unfortunate tendency to gape open in the wind...so, basically, a biking bikini), admiring the atmospheric-effect-that-shall-not-be-named and striving to maintain whatever scraps of modesty my ill-considered wardrobe would allow me. Then a lantern-jawed humorless looking fellow with calves like clenched fists came zooming past me wearing the most spandexy, eye-offendingly garish biking ensemble known to man. His neon green shorts alone were padded with more attention to detail than Black Adder's Russian codpiece. Of course my first inclination was to laugh at him. Because I always laugh at these grim-faced cyclists, who make the very act of cycling seem like such a chore, almost a duty. And in such brilliant plumage, too.
But then I thought about it. Was there a scrap of justification for me to feel superior to this fellow? His bike was well maintained, he was wearing a helmet, and although his clip-in metal shoes would have to be ditched in the case of a survival situation (all right, I know this is weird but since my wilderness class I tend to evaluate people with an eye to how well they would weather a survival situation in what they're wearing. I have to say, in LA, it's an amusing preoccupation. Maybe she could pry the rhinestones off the butt of her pants and strike a spark with them? ...and so on.) he was actually far better off in his rainproof sweat-wicking gear than I was in my silly cotton. Not to mention that rescuers would be able to track him by the simple expedient of locating the herds of animals fleeing in distaste from his obnoxious shorts.
And then I realized with a start that somewhere along the line I have begun to dress for attractiveness, not practicality. This is HUGE for me. I have actually tried in the past---tried hard--to care enough about looking good to invest in impractical clothes, but it always came to nothing. If I couldn't kneel down and garden in it, I wasn't interested. Nowadays, I own many things I cannot kneel down and garden in (or shouldn't. Which doesn't mean I don't. Which means that, although I can look cute upon occasion, I am almost always grimy. Baby steps.) But this was quite a revelation. I actually had to pull my bike over and stop to think for a second. When had style overcome practicality? What could possibly have had the power to overrule the Quaker voice in my head with its incessant whisper of frugality, simplicity, industry!
I'll tell you what. A little something called my friend Laura.
Laura is a diminutive beauty with full lips, dimples, cascading raven tresses, and a sense of style so artistic, so bohemian and creative, that it silenced even my scoffing Quaker critic. (How do you like my blog NOW, huh?!) Since working with her in the art room I have transformed from a frumpy pregnant woman with one pair of pants to the kind of headcase who bikes 26 miles in an embroidered skirt while recovering from the flu. Because I wore my pair of pants yesterday.
I have also, lately, caught myself looking at my reflection in the windows of shops. I used to pride myself on NOT being the kind of person who looked at herself in the windows of shops. I would get a little thrill of smug superiority every time I noticed someone else doing it. I went so far as to imagine that as I walked down the street, people in their cars would gaze at me admiringly, saying to themselves, "Wow, look at that woman. She is not looking at her reflection in the windows of shops!"
But maybe this new impulse toward beauty is a hopeful sign. Life isn't a race, after all. Time taken to appreciate beauty, to see the beauty in the world and try to emulate it in oneself is not wasted. I think it is all a part of the balance.
For example: I found an old bureau in the street and hauled it inside, but it was too large for the house. Then I realized that I could pull the drawers out, fill them with soil, and have more gardening space. And a few years ago, that's just what I would have done.
But I've changed. So, I got out my paints and gave those hideous drawers several coats of a cloud-washed blue before I planted them. And now I smile every time I see that little slice of sky sprouting spinach just outside my door.
Maybe we are only here to be witnesses to the beauty, after all. It's as good a reason as any.