Iridescent Fish on New Year’s Eve
Lessons learned from unexpected texts and a difficult year
I received the most delightful and unexpected text from my friend Gretchen this morning! Gretchen and I don’t text often. I am an occasional advisor and longtime supporter of the Smith-Lemli-Opitz Foundation, of which she is the (volunteer) president, but mostly Gretchen knows me as the husband of her good friend, Kate Duren.
The day today was dark and overcast, but this morning’s text was full of images of wonderous fabrics and textiles! The text started with six images of beautiful swatches with transcendent patterns. One had horizontal lines grey, white, and brown, like a close-up view of the hide of an African antelope, such as an impala or a klipspringer. Another featured Southwestern patterns resembling intricately-tiled mosaics of turquoise, black, and grey. Another offered black and brown concentric circles, such as what one might find in a sedate version of a canvas by Wassily Kandinsky.
The brightly-colored semi-attached iridescent fish scales on another pattern reminded me of that section at the end of the Elizabeth Bishop poem “The Fish”:
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
Gretchen asked me, “Which do you like?,” and I responded, “I love ALL of them!” I then added that “The one with purple flower petals is my favorite” and that “I also like the pattern of temple jade and black. That’s mesmerizing.”
Gretchen wrote back: “The iridescent sequins see one is so amazing I would put it all over my office if I could. But instead I’ll probably graduate my kids from college and save the money. But it’s so cool.”
We could have chatted like this all morning, but soon my phone rang, and I answered, but without caller ID, I would have had no idea who was snorting and guffawing on the other line, unable to catch her breath. Evidently Gretchen had meant to send these images to her boss, also named Andy, for an office redecoration project. Although the colorful fabric images were not meant for my eyes, she appreciated that I jumped right in to answer her questions and offer my opinions, despite not having been privy to the first half of the conversation.
In some ways, 2020 has been like this. We all received a March message we weren’t expecting, and we had to adjust accordingly. For some of us, the move to online work and socializing was as straightforward as picking out favorite textile patterns. For others, it was more like an earthquake that ruptured gas lines and left us in unwelcome darkness. And for those who have lost relatives to Covid, as we have, the darkness is deeper, and the lows lower. Aren’t all of us eager for Friday?
I write to you on the cusp of a new year, another year that will tax our energy, our resilience, our compassion, and perhaps our skills of improvisation. If we are indeed towards the end of the tunnel, I hope that when we emerge we can all blink away the tears of our losses and revel at an iridescent new day’s rainbow, rainbow, rainbow.
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Thanks, and Happy New Year!
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
Cloths and Textiles. What monosyllabic J word is the name of the plant or fiber used to make burlap, hessian or gunny cloth?
Comedians Named Tig. Of all comedians named Tig, what is the last name of the most famous one?
Pop Culture – Music. What rapper had a small role in the film Uncut Gems and had number one hits in Canada and the US with the songs “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face”?
P.P.S. “When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.” Chinua Achebe