Women who run with the wolves

March and April have brought a confused aspect to spring. The groundhog never really gets it right, but I love the lore of it all. A March blizzard threw things completely out of whack. Before the blizzard there was this in my front yard.

Birds were visible, then seemed to go into hiding when the snow came. After the snow cleared, the natural order of things seemed to return—even if ‘natural’ may be a stretch: 45 degrees one day, 70 degrees another. Easter Sunday was a high of 80 degrees though the real what’s-wrong-with-this-picture was told by the trees, pretty much bare.

Noticeably missing was the subtle green chartreuse that encroaches a little more each day. It may be my favorite thing about early spring, the incremental change I get to witness.

There’s certainly some cruelty to April, being the month my mother died. But it’s Robert Frost who resonates even more deeply:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Early spring is nothing if not a reminder of how fleeting things are.

With renewal comes the reminder of all that’s lost to us.

Joy is a bubble, sadness carries weight. No escaping it. Bubbles are light. They float. Touch them too hard and they disappear.

A life well lived is one in which we pay attention—to the daily mysteries of changing seasons, to the people we care about, to whatever the world presents us with. I could easily enumerate the things in my life that give me joy but, on any given day, something heavier—a daughter feeling sick, a relative or friend in need or distress, my own personal challenges—gets in the way. Then there’s the world.

Is the cup half-full, half-empty, or always a little of both?

Don’t we often get the message we need when we most need it—assuming we’re not too closed off to receive it?

“While much psychology emphasizes the familial causes of angst in humans, the cultural component carries as much weight, for culture is the family of families,” writes Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run with the Wolves. A 25th anniversary edition, due out this year, tells me how long the book has been on my shelves. My curiosity about what myths and fairy tales bring to our consciousness, both in terms of story and archetype, may have been what first drew me to the book years ago. What prompted me to pull it from my shelf just the other day is more elusive.

Or is it? I’m an older woman than I was when I first read snippets of the book, but maybe it’s something about the times in which we live that has me craving the call of the wild. What better way to combat the predator wolves at the door than reclaiming the wolf spirit within? It’s metaphor, yes, but the point is to trust the intuitive side of our nature, give it more expression. “Like the wolf,” she writes, “intuition has claws that pry things open and pin things down, it has eyes that can see through the shields of persona, it has ears that hear beyond the range of mundane human hearing.”

Margaret Atwood is much in the news these days, what with the Hulu mini-series of The Handmaid’s Tale airing at a time when the Oval Office stinks with oppression/repression/misogyny. “It’s the return to patriarchy,” says Atwood in a recent New Yorker profile.  She also points out that “in any area of life, it’s push and pushback. We have had the pushback, and now we are going to have the push again.”

#WomensMarch, #ShePersisted, #PussyHat—we’ve only just begun, even if we never thought we’d be marching and fighting to protect and preserve what we’d already gained.

Sometimes when I sit down to meditate, I have the misfortune to see the face of an ugly man with orange hair. Takes some time before he slips out of my consciousness, but his mere presence calls to mind the predator archetype who lives in our psyche, as Estés tells it. Bluebeard, in the story she tells and takes apart, may be the epitome of the predator who, in fairy tales (and life), chooses his women for their easy acquiescence. He may not be handsome but he’s powerful and rich. One by one his brides fall into the trap of a curiosity that kills them. Until one comes along who has the presence of mind to outsmart him.

The titles of books interpreting fairy tales—The Uses of Enchantment (Bruno Bettelheim), Off with Their Heads! (Maria Tatar), From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers (Marina Warner)—speak worlds about their staying power and adaptability to changing times. Even Disney, with its formulaic charm and musical scores to tap our spirits, figured out that, for every fairy tale about a girl/woman saved by a prince there are countless others telling the story of how she saved herself, and others.

Pink Sneakers—that’s a metaphor, right?

Sara's sneakerWe live in a culture that glorifies the same things it trivializes.  Back in May 2010, Vanity Fair ran a profile of Christian Louboutin, “The Godfather of Sole.” No surprise to see the roster of rock stars and royalty for whom a pair of his artful shoes is pocket change. Danielle Steele, according to the article, has 6,000 pairs.  That Toni Morrison owns (at least) one pair brought a big smile to this writer’s heart.

From Cinderella’s glass slipper to Dorothy’s ruby red pair, shoes are nothing if not symbolic of everything from the psychological and historical to the erotic and obsessive.  In The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim tells of those not-for-popular-consumption versions of Cinderella  in which the stepsisters engage in foot mutilation, hoping to make the shoe fit. These days we have foot surgeons.  I don’t know any women who would go to the extremes of shortening a toe or two, but bunion surgery is something more than one friend of mine has had or contemplates.

More to the point, a man engaged in an 11-hour filibuster would have to be wearing some pretty fancy (out-of-character) footwear for it to garner any attention at all and, even then, it would not hold a candle to what the pair of pink sneakers worn by Wendy Davis has come to embody. Yes, we pay a great deal of attention to what women in the public eye wear.  We home in on the pearl necklace, the tailored jacket, the pin on a lapel.  Image is everything. We play down what remains hidden. Tweeting about pink sneakers is sexier than tweeting about the back brace Senator Davis wore so she wouldn’t have to lean on anything as she stood her ground.

God really is in the details. A pair of shoes says as much about the woman wearing them as it does about the world in which she lives.  What makes this story such a timeless one (albeit with a 21st century spin) is the way it meshes the political with the personal and turns a pair of sneakers into a symbol of solidarity for pro-choice supporters. Within days of Wendy Davis’s extraordinary filibuster, those pink running shoes (Mizuno Wave Rider 16) became the best-selling shoes on Amazon. (Never mind that Mizuno President Robert Puccini is an RNC supporter). Even if the mock reviews on Amazon try a little too hard, who can resist the obvious allusions shoes give rise to: comfortable ones like these truly are made for walking. Easy to picture thousands of women kicking ass in them, standing up for a right as inalienable as it gets.  Or pounding the pavement for their hero if she makes that leap into the Texas gubernatorial race.  So pretty in pink.

Once upon a time, as an ancient tale about the origin of shoes goes, there was a princess who stubbed her toe on a root sticking out of the ground while she was walking.  To keep this from happening to anyone else in the kingdom, the princess wanted the prime minister to issue an edict declaring that all roads be paved in leather. The savvy prime minister knew there was nothing the king wouldn’t do for his daughter so he came up with a plan that would satisfy the princess without bankrupting the kingdom, namely, cutting and shaping pieces of leather that could be fitted to the foot.

And so it was—form and function laced into the fashioning of shoes, sensible ones at that. It’s a curious, rich, fascinating story that shoes can tell, one worthy of a museum. If you build it they will come, and, indeed they do to the Bata Shoe Museum in downtown Toronto. There’s no old woman living inside of this stylized shoebox made of limestone, glass, and steel and designed by Raymond Moriyama, but it is a treasure trove of footwear through the ages. Its most recent exhibition just happens to explore the rise of sneaker culture.