Thursday, September 15, 2011

Playing Dress Up

Playing dress up wasn't a big part of my childhood. Mom wasn't an evening gown and high heels kind of gal. She lived in a cotton dress world, to borrow a phrase from Nick Lowe, especially during those early years. No, we were just ourselves, little kids running around in the woods and down endless dirt roads.

It came to me very early this morning, while reading a poem by Mary Oliver, that those years not only gave rise to my love of nature, but they also helped to shape my spiritual life. I think a big part of this return to the land of my youth is about remembering that, recalling who I am, with spirit firmly at the center.

Here's Mary, who never fails to help me remember.

"Poem (the spirit likes to dress up)"

The spirit
   likes to dress up like this:
     ten fingers,
       ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
   at night
     in the black branches,
        in the morning

in the blue branches
   of the world.
     It could float, of course,
       but would rather

plumb rough matter.
  Airy and shapeless thing,
     it needs
        the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
   the oceanic fluids;
      it needs the body's world,

and imagination
   and the dark hug of time,
        and tangibility,

to be understood,
   to be more than pure light
     that burns
        where no one is --

so it enters us --
   in the morning
     shines from brute comfort
        like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
   lights up the deep and wondrous
     drownings of the body
        like a star.

~ Mary Oliver

Here's Nick Lowe and  "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road."  

Image: "Icarus"  by Henri Matisse


  1. Hello Teresa:
    As usual you find themost perfect poem to ditil your thoughts into a few lines. Perfect!

    How different we feel our childhoods were from yours. For us, the dressing up box was a much loved source of new personalities, new possibilities and new worlds to discover. The place where reality and fantasy could be as one!

  2. " it enters us --
    in the morning

    shines from brute comfort
    like a stitch of lightning;

    and at night
    lights up the deep and wondrous
    drownings of the body..."

    Oh Mary O., I love your passionate vision.

    Teresa, you are a dirt (and gravel) road spirit that brings the familiar beauty of your plain song and vision quest to all who read your blog.
    I am a committed follower.

  3. So our imagination dresssed up our lives, I see that a lot. I did dress up a few times, we put bath towels around our necks and flew all around as Supermen.

  4. I wasn't a dress up girl, either. Spent my time wandering a small piece of the Minnesota prairie and the shores of a wild lake. That's where I met my soul. Love the poem and the song. Always a delight to visit you, lady! :):)

  5. Jane and Lance, There was a shortage of any real costume possibilities, but we fired up our imaginations and anything was possible. Brooms became stick horses, and towels, like Steve, became all sorts of things. Most often, we just spent time outdoors, no matter the season. I took on other characters occasionally, but only in my mind.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I always enjoy your perspective from a life so very different from mine, but much the same at the core.

  6. I didn't play dress up either. It always felt like I was from another world looking at life in this one...hmmm I never read much poetry, like some of it, don't care for others, but I do like this one.

  7. Steve, We used towels once in a while to pretend we had long hair, when the storyline required it. Yes, Superman must have a cape.

  8. farmlady, Thanks so much, Connie, for your kind thoughts and encouragement. It means a lot to me. Mary's "passionate vision." Exactly so.

    I just realized I'm out of order in the comments....

  9. GLD, Isn't she something?

    Hello again, Steve! :)

  10. Rita, "That's where I met my soul." What a beautiful line. And so very true for me, as well. Thank You so Much.

  11. Hi Lynn, TM! I think I know what you mean. It sounds like we experienced very similar things growing up.
    I often felt like my life was something I was watching from a short distance. In retrospect, it all plays out like a movie I watched.

  12. "No, we just played ourselves, little kids running around in the woods and down endless dirt roads." It seems to have served you very well. You are close to nature, and you do like to explore where the next road may take you. I got a little of that starting when I was about 13 and we got our lake cabin. The woods became our playground.

  13. Nancy, Oh yes. The woods do make the best playground, don't they? And a lake, too!

  14. The best play is often in the fields of imagination.

    We didn't have clothes to play dress up with in our house. What we didn't use was passed on to others to use. I remember boxes of our used clothes being boxed up and sent to family still in Greece after WWII.

    We did have a neighbor with four girls, however. All but one were older that we were, but, she played with us. Her mother had been a milliner and had all the fixin's for hats. We spent hours designing hats in her garage.

    Wonderful song, wonderful rendition of it.

  15. What a wonderful (and wise) poem. And I love those Matisse cut out images - this one with all the dark blue is one of my favourites. I believe he switched to doing those bold pictures when his eyesight started to fail. He still had things to say, even though his body was letting him down.

  16. Reading the comments, hardly anyone played dress-up. My little girlfriends and I played dress-up constantly. Even thou it was the depression we all had boxes of old fancy clothes, jewels, purses, hats and high heels. We'd dress up at least 3 times a week. Have teas and did the lady thing. Rarely played with dolls. My aunt would give us her almost used-up Tangee lipstick. It was orange but turned a different color on lips. WOW.... were we something. (We thought :) )

  17. Maybe this is why you're so healthy Teresa--having grown up with the things that really matter. My mom had the most beautiful dresses and gowns, and how we loved to pretend with those costumes. She grew from a sharecropper child into a beautiful woman, but sadly, we were never good enough to fill those shoes. Trust me, you missed nothing and gained the world with those cotton dresses.

  18. Penny, Your hat making sounds so cool. What fun. My sister and I did create our own paper doll dresses, thought we were great designers, so there was some imaginative play. Very imaginative.:) What a wonderful thing, the imagination of a child.

    Yes, I prefer Nick's version. There's an easy soulfulness to it.

  19. Jenny, I like this poem more every time I read it.

    Matisse made a departure, and how fun for him, to recreate himself and his artwork, despite the reason. That's a person dedicated to art and self-expression!

  20. Hi Manzi, I recall my sisters using Tangee. I think you can still get it at the Vermont Country Store, catalog or online. Not that you want to.

    It sounds like you had all the accoutrements for dressing up. I'd Love to see some pictures of that.

  21. Towanda, I had it pretty darn good, compared to a lot of kids, simple, but love was there.

    I just cannot imagine how hard it must be to grow up healthy when you've been subjected to demeaning remarks and actions. Things were not perfect in our home, but they weren't bad.

    Bottom line: I struggled mightily for years for balance and emotional health. Don't know why, just did. I've grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Heck, the last few months. :)

    I will always be more cotton dress than anything with lace.

  22. Up on the mill hill
    We wore what we had to wear,
    Which was not a lot.

  23. Lovely words : who needs dressing up clothes when you can dress up with words.

  24. An interesting Mary Oliver poem, Teresa. I don't think I've come across it before. I also love the Matisse you've chosen, as well as that wonderful line about living in a cotton dress world.

  25. Paul, Our options were few, as well. New clothes were a huge event.

    Alan, Words. Yes. I love words. Indeed, the very best way to dress up.

    George, I love discovering a new MO poem. I downloaded the Matisse several months ago, just because I love it and knew it would be ready whenever I was....

    Yes, cotton dress world. Isn't it fine when a few words capture so much?

  26. Mary Oliver wrote some fine poems.
    We dressed up in old clothes and long pieces of old curtains from mother's collection of everything, which we wrapped around us. I'm sure we looked like Greek Gods! My little brother dressed up like Charlie Chaplin with jacket and grandfather's stiff hat and some old blank shoes. I can laugh just thinking of him. He was so funny.
    I dressed my dolls in drapes! Didn't like the dolls-clothes. I tried to drape my black cat too in material I had cut out. I was a tailor you see! And gave it a spray of Mom's perfume, and the poor cat hid under the sofa for the next day. To be a cat of mine was not an easy life! But my dolls looked smart. Mom shook her head and resigned. She almost never scolded us.
    Grethe `)

  27. Hi Grethe! I dressed my cat up in doll clothes! Sas very patient with me.

    Greek gods, to be sure, and Charlie Chaplin, too.
    Thank you for telling me about this. What fun!

  28. Grethe, My letters disappeared. It's not the first time! Should read: She was...

  29. Mary Oliver and Teresa Evangeline. Lord, what a night!!!

  30. Good morning, Teresa Evangeline! Your Matisse image is one of my favorites and Mary Oliver is a treasure for sure. Memories are wonderful in so many ways, even if painful at times, but the freedom of childhood is one to be savored.

  31. Good Morning, Kate! The freedom of childhood and the unbridled imagination. Good stuff. Thanks for stopping by!