Friday, 1 February 2019

Returning to dust.

I don't bother tagging things I write about here, because I'm just thinking aloud and chatting with you, not Creating an Online Presence. So although I'm sure I wrote about Ash Wednesday somewhere, I can't find it now. But I know what I will have said because I thought it for a very long time. [Oh, look. Here it is]

To recap. My feeling about Ash Wednesday was a visceral rejection of the words said at the imposition of ashes: "Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." It's from the Bible of course, what God said to Adam when everything went wrong and he had to leave the garden. It's meant to recall us to humility and penitence, and give us a due sense of our insignificance in the flow of time and in the face of eternity, and all that. And so it does. But my objection was that — going to the same book of Genesis — the beginning of life is the admixture of divine spirit with stardust. So the thing that makes a living being is the fusion of spirit and dust, and to say someone is dust is only half the story. I think God's point was that if Spirit is withdrawn, all that's left is dust. But then, the mercy and grace of God is such that life continues, otherwise we'd all be dead, wouldn't we? So that's the problem I had with Ash Wednesday.

But an unlikely epiphany has come slanting sideways into my life through the most embarrassingly frivolous gateway. And now I am entirely comfortable with returning to dust. I'm pleased about this, because I have been thinking a lot about the process of growing old and how to get from here into death with the most grace and the least terror, and coming to terms with being dust feels promising.

But this is what happened (by 'this' I mean what I'm about to tell you).

Have you ever 'had your colours done'? It's known as different things, but here in the UK Colour Me Beautiful is one of the outfits offering the opportunity to figure out which 'season' suits you and what colour palette you consequently need in order to look marvellous the whole of the time.

Going back a long way, as a youngish woman my prayer partner was Margery, a stained glass artist with a commitment to Holy Spirit healing. I loved her very much and we were good friends. She had an excellent eye for colour, and pronounced that my season was Autumn. Because it was Margery, I accepted her evaluation without question, and labelled myself 'Autumn' ever since. 

A few years ago another dear friend trained to be a Colour Me Beautiful consultant, and offered me a freebie session while she was learning, which I delightedly accepted — but said firmly I knew I was an Autumn because Margery (now dead but we both knew her) had said so. Unsurprisingly I turned out to be an Autumn, and tried hard to make the colours work. 

My problem with it was the Autumn colours — rich and strong — tired me. As a person I am insubstantial, easily exhausted, somewhat faint, easy to overlook and forget, semi-invisible. I am like smoke, like a net curtain drying on a laundry line on a grey day. I am cool and detached, tired most of the time. I have trouble standing up for any length of time and I find relationship and human interaction very difficult. The Autumn colours, bursting with spicy life and energy, just . . . didn't . . . feel . . .  like . . . me.

Then I got a new view on it. My skin doesn't erupt but it's soft and damages easily, so I often get sores and scratches I want to cover up. I was looking for a concealer/foundation. After a certain amount of experimentation with samples from eBay, I found one that vanished into my skin. It's called Cool Bone. I've linked that, not to advertise it (because I don't like advertising) but to acknowledge it.

That got me thinking. Autumn is essentially WARM writ large; and this colour that vanishes into my skin is cool.

So I did a bit of investigating and looked at colour palettes online, and for the first time came across the Soft/Dark/Deep modification of seasonal palettes. I examined all the ones I could find. There was one that stood out from all the others — it had all the colours I absolutely know suit me best.

Soft, dark, deep summer. I felt childishly excited about this because I was born in summer and I love the summer.

It also made sense of my eye and hair colour. My eyes are the colour of the North Sea on a rainy day. My hair is the colour of drying hay.

I love those colours. No. I LOVE those colours. I feel comfortable in them, I feel like me in them, and my very favourite clothes fit right in.

The important thing is that every single colour has a hefty ladling of grey added in. The red of the very last embers amid the charcoal and ashes of a dying fire. The brown of dead tree bark. The yellow of sand churned up in the waves of a rough sea. The purple of brooding storm clouds. The green of the English Channel. The most inhospitable shade of pink you can possibly imagine. Lavender leaves and oak moss, sage and cloud and fog. The colours of veins and clover petals. Damsons and sloes and overripe plums starting to go mouldy. Seakale and squid ink and driftwood. Olives and bruises and mustard and rocks. Twilight and sea-clay and the fallen petals from dying Ena Harkness roses, and the bricks they make in Cambridgeshire.

Everything with a lavish slew of dust kicked over it. Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.

This kind of make-up.

This shade of blue.

Dark blue greens.

Ash grey and darkest crimson.

Charcoal and ink (ooh — look — my fringe has grown).

Smoked crimson lake.

And I've bought a top on eBay in a charnel house white, the colour of very old bones.

This makes sense of my choices of shoe colours, too.

If I choke or die of a heart attack, nobody will suspect a thing. They'll think I merely overdid my make-up.

Here I am, lying in bed in the morning, thinking about returning to dust and feeling very happy.

I'm looking forward to Ash Wednesday now. They'll say DUST THOU ART AND TO DUST THOU SHALT RETURN in their sombre, forbidding way, and I'll think "Thank you — yes, I'll take that," and feel very peaceful with the quiet settling of ashes into my semi-extinguished and rather objectionably charcoal-y personality. Soft, dark, deep. I feel at home with that.

I realise Ash Wednesday is meant to be all about repenting of sin and interior reflection and Jesus in the wilderness and whatnot — so I apologise for making it about colour and me and I hope you are not offended. I thought it worth noting, by what surprising and unlikely avenues our accommodation, to who we are and what is happening to us, arrives. This — oddly — makes me feel more peaceful about growing old, about the church always insisting we are bad and lost and in the wrong, about my insignificance and chronic failure and inability to make myself heard. I don't mind now — I can see it all there in my colours. Smoky, dusty, soft dark deep. Yes, that feels comfortable.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

I went into our Hebe's bedroom where some of her clothes were draped over her chair, and look — the same colours!


Bean said...

Life is one long journey of self discovery :)

Looking good Pen, as always.

Peace be with you,


Rebecca said...

Winter, I'm supposed to be. But mostly, I'm dust, too. 😀

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Bean — Yes. That list a little uneasily with me, because I suspect I'm here to discover something beyond myself; but it at least makes me more comfortable in my own skin.

Hi Rebecca — I gather there are deep, dark Winters as well as the bright, rather blatant sorts. Perhaps you're one of those. It's nice being dust, isn't it? x

Anonymous said...

Me too; it really IS nice being dust. I wonder why others object and/or misunderstand? It’s not as though dust doesn’t appreciate sunshine or the strident colours of autumn - it just prefers to be unobtrusive. I’ve needed to think about this a lot recently. Admittedly, not in these terms but rather how to maintain authenticity. This has given me another angle to consider...
Thankyou again for your insightful blog. Deb x

Pen Wilcock said...

Say more about thinking along these lines and maintaining authenticity??

Pen Wilcock said...

Bean — I meant 'sits' not 'list' — have to watch this auto-correct like a hawk — it never (but NEVER) knows what I might have meant.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pen. I think what I mean is...staying true to ourselves, the core and essence of all we are, when we’re called to be a brighter louder version. The only parallel I can think of is how you stand up and conduct engaging public sermons ( so brave!) when you compare yourself to smoke on a grey day...
Do we step out of that comfort zone to be something else?
Hmm, not sure I’m making sense - even to myself!! Food for thought
Deb x

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, I see!
"Comfort zone" is probably a term you reached for to communicate what you meant (and was effective), but I am sure you will quickly see that standing in one's own space (being true to oneself) can at times be very uncomfortable indeed. It can be more comfortable — though ultimately unsustainable — to fulfil the expectations and demands of others.
The preaching is an excellent example to choose. I find it hard to be myself when I preach; easier to identify and stand within a persona (wizard, abbot, sage). In my true self I am so responsive and adaptive that I get completely lost. In the years I worked in hospice, I used to lose and leave my own psychic space more than stay in it, to keep company with people in urgent need on their own journeys. Sometimes it was hard to get back. The same can be true of being a wife, a daughter, a mother.
In the last year or so, I've been on the trail of trying to know and be who I am. I've come across a particular puzzle I cannot solve. There is a lot in the Bible about meeting the requirements and expectations of God, and these not being really revealed until it is too late to make a change — Jesus in the gospels presents things in this way in some of his parables. These requirements are often described in terms of relationship and interaction. I cannot find anything to suggest that a quiet and reclusive life is acceptable, or withdrawal, or pursuing a path of peace. As a person who easily causes offence, I am used to expressions of my truth sparking outrage. I greatly value solitude and peace. I wish God were a person in the human sense, with whom I could talk these things through (as Teresa of Avila does say we can), so I could determine if more is required or if it is all right to be who I am. Boldness, antagonism, provocation and intensive relationship seem to be much prized in the New Testament; this makes me feel tired.
From what you say, a similar process of weighing up the options seems to be happening for you, too.

Anonymous said...

You’ve hit the nail on the head here. Adopting a persona to please others,or to fulfil a role, whilst negating who we really are; in the truest sense. And, now that you’ve pointed it out, I can see this can also be uncomfortable...
I’ve often thought a monastic life must be simple, peaceful, but potentially isolated from the muddle of atrocious human behaviour - is that right or did Jesus point to the way by immersing himself amongst the people. Sigh - who knows?!
Thankyou so much for taking the time to engage with this. Perhaps I’ll work on my alter- ego and wear...bright yellow?!!

Anonymous said...

Of course you favour the Summer palette, as do I. (Colour me Beautiful) Perhaps stay away from cream though if there is grey in one's hair. 'charnel house' white ha ha! should work and 'winter white'. Mairin.

Bethany said...

Pen, I just so love your "thinking out loud" writing. The connections you draw between all these things--this feels like integration to me, body, mind, spirit...and wardrobe. Thanks for spending the energy to create such a hospitable space.

Pen Wilcock said...

Deb — a very small bright yellow button, maybe . . . From what I know of monastic life, it seems to me community writ large — rather raw and intense. There seems to be a lot of jealousy and watchfulness in it, and some rigid individuals (as well as some gentle and irenic spirits). Religion of all sorts does appear to attract fragile and damaged people — sometimes on a path of healing, but sometimes unwittingly giving in to the urge to channel their pain and anxieties on a large scale.
What I am (tentatively) finding works, is just simplifying *everything* — minimising possessions, commitments, relationships, schedule — so that my responses come from a place of spaciousness with time to reflect and understand.

Mairin — Margery told me Autumns should wear a brown cream; so I *think* smokey Summers might do well in a grey natural bone-like colour — not cream, but not pure white. I *think* the pure white could be Winter (??) and the true cream would be Spring. I am a bit lost in it and unsure.

Bethany — oh, I'm glad you like it — it's the only sort of writing I can do. Anything more erudite makes me lose the will to live, and my entire life is a mishmash of every single thing having equal importance. Everything and nothing matters, in my world. Evaluation is not my strong point, it all just flows along like a river with crystal water that isn't always apparent because of the plastic bottles and mud.


Anonymous said...

Just to add to the confusion about the whites of the summer palette, the Summer Palette from the (out of print?) book called Colour me Beautiful showed a Summer white colour swatch actually named 'winter white' This winter white was a shade not so harshly white as the white given in the same book's Winter Palette.
I remember shopping for a scarf in the right shade of white and found one which was called Winter White, it was a soft white that missed out being called cream. Yes, the palest bone colour you could call it. Mairin.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, Mairin! That confirms my suspicions. And yes, I look foul in cream.

Anonymous said...

Very beautiful (writing and thought and photos)! You look just right, so harmonious.

I always feel like such a misbegotten thing when I try these, no matter how expanded the season assignments have become. Cool hair, very warm hazel eyes, very cool, pale translucent skin. In what colors to wear I always seem to have to choose between eyes and skin, and one is always going to feel out of harmony with the other.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. I'm going to look for your colouring online, now. What about a dark/deep autumn (as opposed to the rather powerful, spice-box variety?

Anonymous said...

Hi, Pen! *waves*

I can definitely see that you are a Smoky Summer. Cool blues and silvery greys and bluey-reds. Absolutely.

The colour palette which was used on me works on the basis that our skin has either a cool blue or warm yellow undertone. Cool blue = summer and winter. Warm yellow = spring and autumn. (Colour analysis should work for all skin colours, by the way.) I’m a Spring, so I look and feel my best in warm, soft colours – turquoise, teal, aquamarine, coral, peach, cream, lime green, primrose yellow. All these colours have yellow mixed into them, although I would never wear bright yellow – too loud and a bit harsh for me. I am also allowed, according to my palette, to wear red as long it’s yellow-based – but in fact I very rarely wear red, as it makes me feel agitated!

Only winter people can get away with wearing pure white or pure black. A friend of mine who has now passed onto glory was a Winter, and she looked fabulous in black, and also in fuschia-pink. Winters can wear deep, bright jewel colours: e.g. ruby red, sapphire-blue. They should not wear muted or pastel colours – just as fuschia-pink would wash me out and make me look ill.

I find it hard to believe that Jesus doesn’t embrace and understand introverts whose energy gets severely drained by other people (even though I LOVE other people – in small doses).

Going on retreat is balm for the soul. Joining a monastic community … very hard work. No thanks. ;)

- Philippa

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello Philippa! You have understood and put into practice the whole colour thing absolutely splendidly — you always look so lovely, and choose clothes that suit you perfectly, so that you look like a beautiful human being not a clothes horse with a person inside.
I bet you'd be a really good colour consultant.
Hey — just suppose there was a convent with traditional habits and wimples and veils, but with different colours for the seasons and personalities of the nuns. I know, I know — they'e meant (why?) to be obliterating their personalities, but that never happens, does it, in reality — so why not celebrate them?

Pen Wilcock said...

Now I'm worried in case monastic friends will feel insulted and misunderstood — ooh, the age-old question: "Do delete or not to delete?"

Julie B. said...

I love this post, Ember. Don't delete ever. I love the colors and would feel okay in most of them, except the lighter pinks. Too porcine for me. :/ Delightful photos too, it's always so good to see you. xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello, my friend — yes, good point about the pinks. Nobody really wants to look like Miss Piggy. The thing about smokey summer is that everything in it is basically grey. So with the pink, you just keep adding grey until it looks like a delicate haze rather than like a chop waiting to go under the grill. I think the place for the pinks might be in a small touch — a very fine gauzy scarf, or lavender pink pearl earrings??