February 14, 2018
Ah, Valentine’s Day. As long as I have been writing, Valentine’s Day wrenches the writer out of me whether I am in mode celebration or succumbing to a full-out rant. Some years I ignored the day entirely or at least made appearances to do so. One year I wrote that all-out rant as if by philosophically and emotionally shredding the day I could somehow show, beyond that doubt’s shadow, the meaninglessness of the day.
Nope, not a fan. Not a fan of the day, I would write. Not a fan of the openly, sometimes shallow demonstrativeness of the day and especially not a fan of inflated price tags. Or I could have been a bit jealous. I would not now deny that possibility.
But I smile remembering that there were years when I declared myself to be the love warrior. I had believed in the greatest power on earth, that ability to love and be loved, and I was the champion of that cause.
Are you cringing yet? Yes. And then my world fell apart. Ouch.
But all that is past tense. This is 2018. It is Valentine’s Day. 2018. And…it is Ash Wednesday. I am sure the two have collided along the way before, two holidays so hopelessly opposites, kissing each other like lovers caught in some sort of flaming dimension warped by time, pecking quickly at each other, reuniting in a twenty-four marathon until they spin off again. Ashes and love, love and ashes. Surely there is a story there?
The imagery and colors of such a reunion is an artist’s orgasm of black and red; the smoking embers glowing in the nests of the phoenix; Cupids and Aphrodite pulling love from the burning hell of hatred. (It is almost too much artistic possibility to process).
On the Valentines Day side, I do applaud the couples in my life. Their unions are cheer worthy. I remind myself that there are people who have found each other, and twirl through life in health, love, and adventures all their own. In that manner, though, I have found, life feels as though I have drifted away from any thought of both love or the hurt with which I associate love. I drift away from it all. Yet life has gotten very sweet.
I had pulled out my selection of Valentine’s Day decorations, had laid them on the grey concrete, then arranged them all complete with lighting from two strings of gummy heart lights. I had in my mind those gooey red heart lights, five red tapered candles with as many red candle holders, heart dishes and cake pans and, of course, the stuffed black and white cat who, upon the pressing of a paw labelled with the instructions to press it, speaks in a charming voice to ‘love me, darling’. I had wanted to photograph an explosion of valentines sentiments which I had kept for twenty years. It had seemed jolly fun, smugly, tongue in cheek, which teetered neatly and abundantly upon sarcasm.
It would be my official Valentine’s Day photograph.
But, I could not do it. Oh, I had taken the photographs. But as I began to edit the reds and the adorable stuffed kitten and red tapers, my eye was captured by those strings of gooey red hearts. As I looked at the photos, my eye kept latching to those hearts, especially to the few that held unto its cord back to the outlet, their gooey color, red flames upon the cold grey concrete.
I grabbed those hearts, stringing them against the brick of the fireplace. There, there it was. Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day. Simply, with my heart smudged with soot.
I had built a beautiful light display with purple lights entitled “Glow”. I meant it in tribute to a family who lost one of their family members too early. She would have been the type of person who would have loved my building and the plans for the gallery. She might have loved how bold the building is and how subtly it changes. I think she would have really loved the story of how the building and business began and what has meant to my life. I had meant to continue with the light display, but as I looked at the gallery space, I thought…
Well, I would have wanted her to see the work, the building first. If I had but one chance for her to see the gallery, one chance for her to see or for anyone, I would want those eyes to see the building more than me or my lights.
So I decided to get to work. I had read of a woman who had watched Youtube videos to build a home for her family. (She did it too). Granted, I cannot do that with a commercial space, but I certainly did not have to wait. As much as I love the artistry of lighting, if I had one chance, I would want to show those steel trusses.
So, for an early Valentines Day gift to myself, I rented a dumpster. I am exposing those handsome ninety year old trusses and removing any materials I cannot salvage. Step One.
How does one love Valentine’s Day? “Oh let me count the ways,” or so the poem reads. Imperfectly is the first thought that comes to my mind. I have thought about the exotic combination of Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday 2018, an undeniable dance of color, philosophy, mysticism and even theology. Woefully unqualified, I pray for the guidance of whether faith defines itself ultimately with a loving heart simply sewn with ash or our human hearts a speck among the loving ashes?
Hmm. Those are questions to ponder.
I found my answer in those gummy heart lights and in the cardinals which visit my birdfeeders at eleven in the morning, each morning. I believe that I do not have magic seed for them, but I think I am graced with the perfect combination of food, quiet, and warm sunlight. The male cardinals typify the angry bird character in their chubby brilliant red chests and blackened beards to outline proud orange beaks. Stunning, sharp colors.
What I had not ever noticed were the colors of their backs and I have been fascinated by them ever since.
The male cardinals, their backs, are a beautiful grey. It is a grey purpled, almost as if singed by the flame which colored their red chests.
Sooted. A heart of soot.
Somehow, with that thought, I could love Valentine’s Day. For me. I could love Valentine’s Day with my heart of soot.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Love you. Lots.