By Jen Pastiloff.
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for? And have you changed your life? ~ from The Swan by Mary Oliver
I took on a new private client in L.A., which I don’t really do anymore, and I gave her an assignment. Send me your 5 most beautiful things every day was the assignment. She said that she would but asked if I would send mine back for posterity.
I lecture about my 5 most beautiful things project in all my workshops and retreats, but I’d kind of fallen off the wagon of writing them down myself.
So here I am in London. Trying my best to be a beauty seeker. A relentless beauty hunter. What better way than to jot them down in my typical rambling fashion? So I will. I’ll post them. My musings, as it were. And it may interest you, and it may not. But hey, my eyes are open. Maybe you’ll be inspired in some way to look at that guy next to you, the one with the plaid shirt and the cane, the one with the really long fingers and bushy grey eyebrows and see something beautiful in him. But even more than how beautiful it is the way his right foot rests on the leg of the table and his hands cover his eyes as if he’s about to cry, it’s the beauty of the moment and how full it is and how it will never ever be again. Because look, already it’s gone.
So I will attempt to jot down my beautiful things everyday. I’ll do my best to post them somewhere. For posterity. Sometimes more than five. Five was just a number I thought was doable. Tweetable. A number we could all manage. Oh, only 5 beautiful things? Easy. I got this.
Shoes and tubes and kids. Here’s a beautiful thing (although it’s perhaps more than one solid thing): I was on the tube wearing my fancy-ish sneakers- the ones with the studs and chains. They’re blue leather, and besides the few coffee stains on them from too much wear, they make me feel good. The tube was crowded so I shared the pole with this little girl of about about 5 or 6 years old. She had on heart socks with gold-tipped sandals and I thought the contrast between her little fancy foot and mine, with the yellow pole in between, seemed artsy. And ironic. So I took a picture.
I showed her and she approved. I took a second photo. (Just in case.)
She had a mini-pencil in her hand and started to write in the air. I asked her to write her name. She did, although I’m not sure what it was because from my vantage point it was backwards. Plus, I am not sure she could even spell.
I imagined her writing poems in the air.
She stuck the pencil in her mouth and hid behind her mom’s leg.
My husband noted that I was good with kids. “Pasti.” He calls me Pasti, short for my last name Pastiloff (which I kept,) “Pasti, you’re good with kids.”
“Yea, for 5 minutes,” I replied.
I said I was sort of envious of people who’d gone through it all already. Who had kids and didn’t have to go through the whole rigamarole and shlepping of being pregnant.
“We’re old,” I reminded him.
We went to a Whole Foods on Kensington High Street (so American of us!) and I ordered a jacket potato with tuna. The lady behind the counter opened the potato and stared blankly at me. “Tuna,” I reminded her.
“We are out of tuna. Have the beef.”
“I don’t eat meat. I ordered the potato because I wanted the tuna,” I said as she threw away the potato. (I would’ve eaten it if I would’ve known she would chuck it.)
I told her to make me a veggie burger instead.
“May I have mayo?” I asked.
I think I might have rolled my eyes a little when she said that they had no mayo. Anywhere. In the whole of Whole Foods. I felt very American again.
I wished to have the little heart-footed girl’s pencil with me at that moment so I could write my name in the air.
The veggie burger was old, like a hockey puck made from lentils.
I ordered a chardonnay to wash down the dryness as I watched for children with cute shoes or pencils and other beautiful things.
I tried to change my flight coming home before I even got here. I won’t have enough time I thought. Eight days is not enough. Which is absurd, really. It is enough but it’s like when food comes and I’m hungry- It won’t be enough to fill me up, as if I’m Oliver Twist or grew up as some street urchin who never had enough food. (To be clear, I always had enough food except when I was starving myself and that was by my own volition.) I’m not going to have enough: a common refrain. Virgin Atlantic told me that to change my flight to come home the day after I had originally booked would be 5,000 pounds. My ticket was only about 1,300 pounds so I could fly back and forth, LAX> Heathrow 4 times with that cost. I declined the switch. I tweeted Virgin Atlantic that I was terribly #disappointed in their #service and how #ridiculous it was (as if my tweet would make a difference.) It just seemed outrageous to me. 5k pounds!?! Anyway, we get this flight attendant and it was like the Virgin Atlantic gods were trying to make up for my dismay.
He’d walk up to our seats with this shit-eating grin and pull things from behind his back like some kind of magician in the sky. “Here, here’s the good stuff, from upper class,” he’d say as he handed my husband a tumbler of some very fine scotch and me a nice pinot noir. He did it a few times too. He kept coming over to chat with us and couldn’t get over the fact at how familiar I seemed to him. “Well, I’m famous on the internet,” I joked. He asked when my return flight was and when I told him February 23rd, he squealed, “The 11 am flight? I’m on that!”
And so I felt happy and that things were right in the world again and that I owed Virgin Atlantic a follow-up tweet. And I kind of imagined that with him flying back and forth, LAX> Heathrow 4 times might not be so bad. He’d have kept me amused and liquored up on that 4 times roundabout. And that was a beautiful thing.
At my workshop on Saturday in Hammersmith there were a bunch of Americans and two of them were flight attendants for United. They said they always, no matter what, find someone to over-serve. I was happy we’d been those people on my flight. We made the cut!
My workshop. More than 50 people in a city- Hell, in a country- I don’t live and have never taught. As I was talking about the 5 most beautiful things, a rainbow appeared and someone (it was actually one of the flight attendants) interrupted me to point it out. I tried to take a picture, but the minute I did it disappeared. That’s beauty for you, isn’t it? You can’t capture it. You’ve got to pay attention to it, yes. Let it move you, yes. But to try and hoard it or hold on to it? Well, you’ll stand there empty-handed and wishing for a ship that’s already sailed.
It was there though, that rainbow, and it appeared just as I was telling those 50+ people about the most beautiful things project like it was a nod to what I saying, an agreement- yes, there’s beauty everywhere, it seemed to say, and everyone saw it as if it only existed for us right then in that moment. Who knows, maybe it did?
It was a beautiful workshop. Who knew the Brits were so open? Maybe it was a sign- the rainbow at the beginning of the workshop? Or maybe it was just them. Maybe it’s just who they were. I guess not everything needs to be explained away.
Last night after I sat in Le pain Quotidien off Kensington High Street for hours doodling This is the world. You are a person in the world. The world is full of pain. Each pain has it’s own singular kind of beauty and other weird poemy lines on the colored pieces of paper they had at the table, I stood on the sidewalk and tried to poach their wifi.
They had closed (I actually didn’t notice they were putting chairs on tables because I’d been so into my work) and I had no way to get ahold of my friend who I was meant to meet. So I stood outside in the cold, in front of the closed café and stole their wifi. She’d said they were going to go somewhere near Sloane’s Square but I had no idea where nor how to get there. I finally gave up on trying to get in touch with her and decided to take a bus towards Sloane’s Square. I really really had no idea where I was going but I was happily lost, partially because I saw the Whole Foods I’d been at earlier and a bunch of shops that I recognized (as if that was somehow a compass) and partially because I felt the itch to write and what that happens I become like a thief, using anything for inspiration. So the man I asked how to get to Sloane’s Square? He’ll show up somewhere, here, or in a poem or story. Wait- here is.
He told me which street to turn left on then right then walk this way then, here is running after me. How sweet, he’s running after to me to tell me he’s given me the wrong directions. He goes on and on and I’ve lost him after about 4 seconds but I listen as best as I can with my deaf-ish ears and his accent and smile. He says, “Got it?”
“I’m going to take a taxi,” I say.
He howls as if it is the funniest thing he has ever heard.
My taxi driver was lovely. He kept asking me if I was tired. “Long day?’ he asked. I was yawning a lot.
“No, not really. I was just staring at the computer screen for a long time.”
And I thought about all the pain the world, and how maybe I should put my seatbelt on as I slid across the backseat, and how maybe he had his own singular pains and how maybe they were beautiful.
The Battersea Bridge- the lights on the bridge lit up the sky and I almost took a picture, but then I remembered the rainbow. So I just held it there in my eyesight first, then in my heart, and finally in my imagination, where it will change a bit, with time, and perhaps with this beer I am drinking in this pub in Putney as I write this. Because things change once we claim them as ours, don’t they?
I put my seatbelt on. A few minutes later we arrived at the Overstrand Mansions in Battersea where I’m staying. I got out and muttered the words tube, beauty, taxi, lights, man, lost, bridge, and wondered what would happen if I tried to string them together.