you & me

The Coloring Book Called Life.

Some cards you look at, think how pretty, how nice, or how funny, and toss. Other cards are keepers.

You put them away in a special place and, when you need a quick boost of emotional B12, shake them out and gulp them down.

Every now and then, a card arrives that is like a shell on the beach, a twinkling stone on the tarmac, or an unanticipated flea market find. It is so perfect that you can’t bear to shove it in some dark drawer.

Instead, you set it smack square in the limelight atop the coffee table, bar or toilet where not even the blind will miss it. (“Be sure to feel the top of the commode after you flush!”)

My apartment, for instance, is littered with pebbles, rocks, twigs, pinecones, duck feathers, leaves, and even a sweetgum burr, and not one is on the floor. And joining them now, in just the perfect teal frame, is a card from my daughter.

Got your card, I texted.

Hope you liked it, my daughter texted back.

Haven’t opened it yet, I replied. I’m savoring the envelope.

I know, a platter of Escargots a la Bourguignonne is to be savored. Or a perfect latte or a sunset. But an envelope?


For starters, this envelope was addressed in red ink in my daughter’s quirky scrawl — a sight as welcome and beloved as my stuffed animal, Spike the Wonder Wolf, beckoning from the sheets at bedtime.

Yet what brought me to tears were the little pink, uncolored-in hearts my little girl drew all over both sides of the envelope. And no, my daughter is neither 10 years old nor a professional for Papyrus.

She is a 30-year-old published author and blogger, whose preferred means of picture-drawing is not with colored pens but with words.

Yet she does wear her heart on her sleeveLiterally, as obligingly proves by including envelope as one of its definitions of sleeve. If my daughter loves you, not only you know it but the whole world (or, at least the United States Postal Service) knows it as well.

I love this about my baby.

To be so open takes guts.

It may also take genetics. Not that I am brave — I quiver more than a blancmange and worry far more than any wart. But I color. Give me a coloring book and crayons, and I am Picasso on a psychiatrist’s sofa.

Indeed I can’t remember when coloring wasn’t therapy for me. It certainly began long before I had children — more than likely in elementary school, the Ninth Circle of Hell for a shy unpopular frizzy-haired buck-teethed klutzy misfit who preferred reading in a corner to Recess.

Today, however, I embrace coloring less as an escape from kickball than as a form of meditation that doesn’t require my entire body to sit still. At least my hand can move.

Apparently I am not the only grown-up with a passion for a kid’s pastime. Coloring is now trendy.

As wrote recently, “Coloring can lift the mood, reduce anxiety and relieve stress. Neuroscientific research has shown that through the use of art therapy, the human brain can physically change, grow and rejuvenate.”

I don’t know about changing or growing, but coloring Big Bird Learns His Letters sure helps this spiritual seeker rejuvenate.

In part, it’s because there are no limits or annoying musts in my coloring world. A field of grass can be orange and blue and turquoise people ride crimson horses, and no one looks twice. Except for me, of course, as I gaze in admiration at my creation. Is this how God feels at sunrise?

When at last I freed my daughter’s card from its envelope, the magic got cracking. Lo and behold, here in my hands was a coloring of a tree! Nor was it your standard issue in green and brown.

Its trunk and roots were burnt orange; its leaves, teal, pink and purple; and its branches, thin white and brown swirls. Scattered about its roots, like dropped fruit, were paint splatters and buttons.

The tree also reminded me of a candle burning at both ends. Not in a sad Kurt Cobain way but in an eternal flame way. Flip the card… and the roots became branches and the leaves and branches, roots and soil.

I suspect all this has something to do with Yin and Yang, a Chinese philosophical term used to describe how opposites are actually one. Like the heads and tails of a coin. Or light and dark, fire and water, male and female.

Better yet, Yin means shady side and Yang sunny sideNow, what grows in sunshine but provides shade?

How could I ignore that? I had to follow where my tree led me.

We wound up at a party. My landlord was throwing a get-together and, as I approached, I saw that, while my average neighbor was born after Princess Diana died, there were a few who might have watched her wedding.

Two I even sort of knew and looked forward to knowing better because of a chance conversation about gardening, after they crossed the parking lot with a bouquet of Swiss chard the size of palm fronds.

A party! People! Potential friends!

Except… what was this? I felt like a fish viewing Manhattan. Abruptly I turned and went for a walk.

I loved every moment of my walk, too. Particularly the part where two ducks took a long dip in the lap pool as a crescent moon pushed through the clouds to hang beside a star so bright I was sure it couldn’t be a star. (I was right. It was Venus.)

Much of the time, I could hear the party. It was in full swing — voices, music, laughter, clinking glasses — and it sounded like fun. But the thought of joining in was still… well, repulsive.

Most people use the word repulsive the way my Dear Friend might say, when describing a platter of Brussels sprouts, which DF loathes. However, I am using repulsive as Jane Austen did, as in tending to drive away or keep at a distance.

No loathing is involved. None. But, please, allow me to keep my distance. If I am going to chit-chat, may I chit-chat with the moon and ducks.

Ultimately this makes me the repulsive one, doesn’t it? I’m Mr. Darcy. I’m the Brussels sprout.

From Party Animal to Veggie. Now that’s a journey!

“I’m becoming a hermit,” I texted a friend. “I’m not sure if this is healthy.”

“The nature of Yin and Yang flows and changes with time,” reassured me later. “Sometimes changes in the relationship between Yin and Yang can be dramatic, where one aspect can literally transform into the other.”

I’d say a metamorphosis from reveler to recluse fits.

And, unlike Kafka’s cockroach, I feel pretty good about it. As Confucius says, “They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”

The happy enlightenment I’m gaining? Patience. Clouds break and, in time, when it’s time, the sun steps through. Snow will go the way of the Wicked Witch of the West and bare branches will sprout… stars are born… flu season ends… aloneness turns lovely… and, look! It’s dawn.

All is a circle as ceaseless as a toddler’s chatter.

Wee folk are tiny. They live close to earth.

Perhaps this is what the buttons in the tree-coloring represent. They remind us that, while we are creatures of spirit, we are buttoned to earth as well.

Writer and naturalist John Burroughs agreed. “I go to nature to be soothed and healed,” he confessed, “and to have my senses put in order.”

I watch the trees… and I begin to grasp how, too, to be in order. To balance like a barre-less ballerina. To be poised eternally en pointe because my roots bore into the earth every bit as intently as my branches reach to brush against the floor of Heaven.

When I shared a photo of my tree-card with my pal Wonder Woman, WW lived up to her name. “Beautiful!” she cried. “It reminds me of how our brains are wired with all the connections.”

How had I missed that? The treetop did look like a brain.

Yes! Let’s be wired like trees! Let’s grow tall and strong and multi-limbed and lushly enlightened so that, in embracing others, we offer the shade they seek. The respite, the rest. The beauty.

Rings of taking the plunge.



Jenine Baines

Jenine Baines

Jenine Baines is a retired publicist who’s replaced press releases with poetry and plants. Eventually, it dawned on her that a book of essays -- An Archaeologist in the Garden: Excavating Lessons on Blooming from the Dirt -- was germinating as she weeded, amended soil, and planted to terraform the blight called a back garden at the funky little rental house in LA she shares with her partner.
Jenine Baines
Jenine Baines