The Winsome Smile. Image from a book on Etiquette from around 1910.
I'm listening to The Dangerous Old Women by Clarissa Pinkola Estes - and that's a good sign.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes brings out the best in me, and I probably should have been listening to her every day for the past 10 years, but I haven't been able to, for some reason.
She's a wise woman, so she probably could explain. But then she'd say I already know.
I purchased Pinkola Estes tape of Women who Run From the Wolves years ago and found it, as they say, life-affirming. And comforting and calming.
And I still have one tape of the 2 tape set in my 'special drawer' in my bedroom, the one with my jewelry and the two rattles once used by the boys.
But my tape player broke years ago.
Her material is all available for digital download now, on the Sounds True website. It has been for a while. But still I haven't decided to pull my chair up to the the banquet. Until a few days ago.
Instead, as this blog reveals, I've been watching old movies on Turner Classic Movies. That's fine too, but the problem with most movies and most of TV is that it 1) bombards you with too much information and a huge amount of mixed messages, which are paralyzing 2) the ultimate goal is to promote consumerism, which by definition, must diminish you in order to sell you stuff.
So, the mass media can be titillating and fun, but like that Sex in the City Slot Machine at Las Vegas it ultimate only sucks the spirit from you and gives you nothing really nourishing back in return.
But Estes' fairy tales, which she tells in their original dark and dirty state, which she has De-Disneyfied, are empowering by their very design. And consquently they are comforting to listen too (although also disturbing but in a good way).
So there you go.
I also purchased a series of talks called the Ultimate Anti-Career Guide by Rick Jarrow and, well, he speaks of many of the same things as Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
In an early exercise he asks listeners to focus on one powerful image or memory from childhood that hooks you into the life force and to hang on to it and replay it over and over in your mind.
And I decided to remember this time I went for a picnic with my girlfriend's family in 1964.
They had decided to go to a National Park quite a ways up north, quite naively, as they had recently arrived from England and probably didn't realize how massive and untamed national parks in Canada were.
Anyway, after many hours of travel (it must have looked much closer on the map) we arrived at the tip of this park only to realize there was nothing there but acres and acres and ACRES and ACRES of woods.
Had this been my family, my father and mother would have been at each other's throats by this time, but it wasn't my family, so they decided to set the picnic blanket out in the middle of a field.
While we were eating the egg salad sandwiches and drinking the Tangs, we noticed a beautiful black horse emerge from behind a wooden building and start gallopping around, its hooves pounding the earth, most audibly, its luxuriant black mane whipping from side to side. (This was just like in my favorite books about horses, Black Beauty and King of the Wind, books with glossy plates of muscular horses, for I was ten years old and loved my horse stories.)
Yes, it was quite a sight (and a bit scary as we were sitting not far away) and soon after a beautiful young woman in jodpurs and riding habit, who also had long ink-black hair,came over to us (or we went over to her) and she was a bit snobby, like a rich girl should be, about 22, and she talked to us and I recall her saying, "I don't believe in keeping horses cooped up in a stable."
(Now, I was only 10, but I could still see her for what she was, spoiled and free to believe what she wanted because her Daddy let her have whatever she wanted.)
I couldn't have dreamed a better story... maybe it was all a dream. I remember it as reality.
Now, oddly, I live in horsey country. It's a suburb now, but every day, on the way to town to buy groceries or a bottle of wine, I pass many fancy horse-farms. These are all hidden away, so I hardly notice. Well, I usually don't notice at all.
And although my road has yellow signs warning drivers of potential horse-riders, I have seen only handful of riders on the road in 10 years. Maybe 4 in total.
Years ago, I even took riding lessons not far from where I live today. In St. Lazare.
At a stable run by a man who had been a Captain in the Polish army.
If I think of it, riding a horse as a child was when I felt happiest and most free. Euphoric.
But I did not feel this way at Captain Adams', where everything had to be performed just so. Where you couldn't canter until you had perfected your post at the trot. That was the OPPOSITE of empowerment. That was about control. (He would have called it discipline.)
I was happiest when seated atop some old weather-beaten nag on those cheap 3 dollar trail rides that existed back then, right in the middle of what is now bustling St. Laurent. You got to canter through the woods; you got to gallop through fields, on an old horse that knew just what to do and was actually taking care of you.
Poor old equine souls: My father always said they were on their way to the glue factory.
Anyway, at Captain Adams' I distinctly recall another wild horse episode, perhaps in the same year, 1964, or a year earlier or later. It was Spring time and someone's beautiful chestnut red steed got a mean case of Spring Fever and sprung loose and began running wild between the paddocks, bucking and rearing, again like in a movie.
I was taking my fat little Exmore pony back to the stable, no saddle, and Captain Adams commandeered my pony and eventually ran down the much bigger wild horse with a lassoo. (I recall how UPSET Adams was. Perhaps the horse was worth a lot of money. Perhaps he just didn't like to see anything out of his control. I was also amazed at how easily he could manoever my stubborn little pony : I could barely get it to start to walk when I wanted to.)
Both memories serve well as metaphors for how girls, at 10 or 12, have their life force lassooed and saddled and tamed by society and the likes of Captain Adams.
And with mass consumerism, and a media that preys on children, this is happening earlier and earlier. Some women, today, may have no access to any early image of empowerment that doesn't involve make-up, clothes and perfume: Competition with other women over male approval.
Empowerment permitted only if you exist as a projection of male needs, even gay male needs as gay men create the fashions we are supposed to like.
In 1910, some girls probably worked hard cultivating that winsome smile demonstrated by the model in the picture above.
There were many etiquette books and a few fashion magazines to lo0k at with clothes lust, but nothing like the virtual milky way of dazzling images young girls have set in front of their eyes, 24/7 these days.
That's why we women need to take time out from this information overload close our eyes and listen to these old unvarnished fairy tales as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
To give our souls a cleansing and to call our true spirits back.