I come from the last generation who ironed. Ironing fell into that category of necessary but not particularly noteworthy labor which characterized “woman’s work.” It was incredibly time consuming. Liberation for women came coincidental with the coming of synthetic fabrics and the demise of ironing.

Like many things defined as being woman’s work, ironing can be so tedious, boring, and without glory as to be identified as a form of slavery. I’m as grateful for miracle fabrics as the next woman, but I have a confession to make: I loved to iron.

In the first place, since it was necessary, I never had to feel guilty while I slaved away at the ironing board, breathing in the steamy vapors of fresh laundry, Tide detergent and Niagara starch, and that “back in the good old days” scent that can only come from line drying outside in sunny breezes. But all of that was atmosphere. The real reward was performing a task that requires a certain amount of mastery and still have one’s mind free to do with it exactly what one pleases. Things like talking to God, and contemplating the nature of reality. And things which, without this necessary labor, I would have neither the time nor the clear conscience to indulge. Things like listening to Billie Holiday and Odetta on my stereo, and classical music and opera, because I wanted to be an intellect, which of course, also included listening to the news on the radio. But I preferred the blues. Still do. Most important, while standing at the ironing board, I made up poems.

In the second place, I discovered it to be a perfect location from where to work out my point of view and later, when I went into business for myself I discovered that the ironing board was the ideal vantage point from which to view my operation—my catbird seat. Let me explain:

A man who supervised big construction jobs, like dams and highways, gave me some very valuable information. He said that when he was on a new job, the first thing he did was find a spot that would best position him to be able to tell what was going on. He called it the “catbird seat.”

He took me out to one of his highway work sites and to the catbird seat he was using at that time.  He pointed out that not only was it the high ground from where he could see everything that was going on, but could also hear what was going on. I stood there with him listening to what he called his symphony. If any of the heavy equipment operators was not up to par or any of the machinery not running well, he could locate it in seconds. For me, it was a “peak moment” that continues to inform how I operate, not just in business, but life in general.

Evidently “catbird seat” is an American phrase originating in the south, meaning “a superior or advantageous position.” The actual Catbird belongs to a genre of birds called the mimic thrushes, which include mockingbirds and is named for its ability to mimic a cat’s meow. They seek out the highest perches in trees from which to observe their terrain and sing and preen in relative safety. This is most likely to be the derivation of the term which may also be the source of an earlier term with much the same meaning: “sitting pretty.” Early on the phrase was used in association with the sport of baseball.  In the forties Red Barber announced the games over the radio using expressions like “sitting in the catbird seat” meaning sitting pretty like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. But I’ve had it explained to me—by those who should know—that the expression originated and circulated in prisons in the early forties. This makes life and death sense, doesn’t it?

When I was liberated enough to choose my own form of slavery I formed a corporation and designed and manufactured women’s apparel. I looked for my catbird seat. In my operation it turned out to be—you guessed it—standing at the ironing board, and I periodically worked that spot throughout my career. It was central to the flow of production. Not only could I tell how much was being produced, but how fast, and the quality of the workmanship.

In my old age, I have finally become the writer and poet I used to dream of being, and practiced to be, while standing at the ironing board doing “woman’s work.”  So, since I am still a woman, it seemed only right to continue to use the desk with which I had started. I found a great old wooden ironing board in an antique store that is easy to manage and light to carry. I take it with me to my poetry readings and make a bit of a show whipping it onto the stage, setting it up, and scattering it with my chap books and readings and announcing that I am ready to get down to some real woman’s work. This  has been so much fun and so successful that publishing my  poetry and other pressing commentaries under the name “Ironing Board Press” seemed perfect.

Now, in honor of the hours I have spent with the ironing board as my catbird seat where, though I do have a great view and can see everything that is going on, I continue to mix my metaphors and peddle my puns in the hope of bringing you something to warm your heart or fire your mind. This woman’s work is presented  hot off the press.

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While Loss and Sorrow get all the credit for character building and growth,
we are too familiar with and accustomed to their company.
It is Beauty who awakens, humbles, and requires us to grow
if we are to tolerate the glory of her presence.
Caron McCloud  

We had just made our selections from the exotic East Indian menu when the woman walked in. The late afternoon sunlight suddenly  flooding the dining room through windows framed in persimmon walls and shining on dark grained highly polished wood tables and cozy pillowed booths,  provided the perfect setting — or stage — for her entrance.

She appeared as though stepping from an Impressionist painting, but as one having passed through gathering the best qualities from several eras. Let’s start with the wide brimmed fine straw hat shading the porcelain skin and delicate bone structure that once epitomized the criteria for beauty in women of the aristocracies of a once elegant race that ruled the world, now moving into extinction.

Her slender body was accentuated be a straight tunic-cut shirt of white linen — the only fabric I can think of as  successfully reconciling paradox by being both crisp and soft at the same time. The hand rolled hem arrived right on schedule at its finger tip length destination where hip turns the curve to become the terrain of thigh. From here pale blue pin stripe seersucker capri pants traveled the leg to arrive fashionably early just before calf becomes ankle.

The silence of her thin strapped sandals— matching the maxim “the less shoe the better”— as the host accompanied her across the room,  seemed to induce a meditation. Upon removing her hat as she was seated at her table by a window, the sunlight rushed with every intention to catch itself in her hair, but in coming near, stopped short at the sight of the sacred being and settled for hovering over the white hair that streamed below her waist. Yes, white! Did I fail to mention that she was old?

No one really ever knows how old these creatures are, but it turns out often enough that since they are always older than they look, I was justified in  the assumption that she might rival my three quarters of a century on this planet.

I was grateful for the distraction — lest my staring embarrass her or myself — when, preceded by the pungent scent of curry and fig, the food arrived, perfectly prepared and presented. My daughter, Shiloh, and I ceased staring and beginning to eat, we resumed our celebration of the success of the first four day session of the Color of Woman Seminar that she had created, and how delighted and amazed we were with the women who were participating and with the quality of the paintings they were producing and the “break throughs” they were experiencing.

During our delicious meal and conversation,  our eyes would travel back to capture the detail of her, watched as food and wine was gracefully brought to her mouth with the slender hands which time had finally  convinced to reveal some definition to the intricate miracle of bone and vein. We watched this one who dined alone. Alone, that is, except for the perfect composure which accompanies those few who occasionally dine alone because they choose to do so. Those few who are accustomed to and at home in the gazing upon of others.

I knew I was being permanently imprinted by this woman, as I thought back on another such being I’d witnessed in Hong Kong thirty some years ago, while dining with friends in what was then considered one of the finest restaurants in the world. And certainly one of the most romantic. Here arrived one of these solitary beauties that silences a room upon entry with their elegance, style, and “I choose to dine alone” composure.

“I choose to order wine,” she seemed to state, “that meets with my refined esthetic from the waiter who hovers over me and lights my cigarette. I choose to take this red rose with my impeccably manicured long fingers from the crystal vase between the white candles on my white table cloth, and after consuming its fragrance, place it exactly where it belongs in my dark upswept hair.  And I choose to indulge myself for several hours with these exquisite courses, and then sit smoking contentedly contemplating the mystery of myself over brandy.”

She has been my Bella Rosa Muse ever since.

I arose, while my daughter paid for our meal, and went to pay homage to my new muse, hoping that, besides interrupting her dinner, I would not do something stupid, like trip and bump her table, or spill sudden tears into her soup.

Up close, face raised and open to me like a lily in full bloom, I knew why the sun had halted its rush to touch her and was satisfied with hovering. I wanted to tell her all these things that I am telling now, but the soup would have gotten cold and the salad wilted. Besides I  could bring speech to nothing more original than, “I apologize for intruding, and I know that you hear this all the time, but I can’t leave without saying — You are so beautiful.”

She reached out to me with both hands and we clasped each other’s arms just where the forearms narrow to become the wrists, and with her pale blue eyes shining their light on me and, again reconciling paradox, by speaking in a voice tuned by both dignity and warmth, she said, “ From one beautiful woman to another — thank you. You have made my day.”

Since then I have missed no opportunity to tell this story of my encounter with Muse Lily White. And I have yet to tell it without tears. Even though we know that Beauty brings us to our knees to worship at her shrine, and that those who chose to serve her have learned that she is the most strict and demanding mistress of all, one may wonder, “Why tears?”

“Well,” as Doctor E might say, “ Let me tell you.”

Coming into the presence of Lily White happened, as already noted, just after four incredible days of being in the Color of Woman Seminar. I was with almost two dozen beautiful women, assisting in and supporting their process to access and experience images of themselves and/or their muses through painting. We had spoken much of whether muses come from within us or from outside of us, or both. We had spoken much of Beauty.

I watched these women move into relationship with their canvases with the commitment and courage and grace of  dancers, or warriors, or priests.  Watching them move between inspiration, and despair as they struggled through a sense of unyielding stubborn canvases and unwieldy stubby brushes and, most of all, with a silent unrelenting ancient rage of self criticism and doubt.

And then, through their diligence,  open hearts, and ability to receive instruction regarding the least thing, maybe the mixing of color, or how attending to less than a quarter of an inch of a line can change everything, or the sweep of a bold and single stroke, or how the placement of a tiny dot of paint in an eye can light the entire canvas, we would see them suddenly dance back from their canvas to witness what had been destined to materialize from the time they were born— to look upon her at last and to exclaim, “Oh my God! I love her! She is beautiful!”

And in seeing their own beauty gazing back at them, they see the beauty of everyone and fall in love with everyone in the room. Including me. Many came to tell me that I am beautiful and how they hope to look as good as I do when they reach my age.

But it wasn’t until Lily White reached out to me in her response that I really got it. And I was humbled. I realized how shallow my responses to the compliments lavished on me had been. I had behaved demurely, saying things like, “Oh thank you Honey, that is so sweet of you to say that,” while thinking things like, oh they’re just saying that because I saw them through hard places in their process or because I am Shiloh’s mother. I had not forth rightly  received what they were giving , nor validated their perceptions.

So, why the tears? Perhaps because I have to be reminded that all our striving to find our way in this reality that exists in a Paradigm of Paradox can only be relieved and reconciled by Beauty. After all these years, and all these compliments, I had not recognized the false pride that prevented my receiving until I was humbled before Lily White, and witnessed her, not only receive my compliment, but upgrade it to the knowledge of acknowledgment. Not only did she receive this knowledge, but she validated it by claiming and owning and standing for the truth that she is beautiful, and speaking to me from that stance  saying, “ From one beautiful woman to another — thank you. You have made my day.”

So again, Beauty,  the relentless mistress whom I serve, brings me to tears and to my knees with the revelation of her sister Grace, whom she will not expose to those who cannot receive and are unwilling to stand for their own value. So now, besides serving Beauty, I will honor her sister with the writing of this thank you from one beautiful woman to all of you beautiful women who will receive the truth of beauty and stand for your gifts.


                                                                               Part of my recent assisting role in the amazing Color of Woman Training was to share some of my experience with muses. There has been much conversation as to whether or not the muse comes from inside of ourselves or from outside of ourselves, or both, whether she is real or imaginary, and other of those questions that my reader may be considering while reading these lines. I decided to share my encounter with the muse who arrived for the writing of my book “Rachel’s Bag” because it  illustrates that they do not always show up as who or what we may expect or imagine.

Caron McCloud 

“We know how to speak false things which seem to be true,
but we know, when we will,

to utter true things.”

~The Violet Wreathed Muses to Hesoid~

It was 4:00 A.M. — that strange-blue-lit hour-of the dog — and I had just completed a trilogy of poetry chap books which I had been working on non-stop for six weeks. Heaving a great sigh of relief, I was reaching for the shut down command on my iMac, when my fingers suddenly flew to the key board and a poem showed up on the screen — a poem of which I did not experience myself as being the source.

“What?!” I exclaimed aloud after reading it. “Where did this come from?”

“What do you mean, ‘Where?’” I heard in a sexy Stella Mac kind of voice. “Why, from me, of course. ”

“Who are you?” I asked, looking around in shock. Since I hadn’t consumed any alcohol or drugs in years (well … except for a few hits off of the Little Holy Smoke that occasionally showed up with a little help from a friend … or two) I figured my hallucinatory state was due to long nights and obsessive writing.

“What do you mean ‘Who’?’” the voice said. “I’m Muse Red, of course!”

“I don’t believe in muses,” I said, my body stiffening, my arms folding. “I’m a Christian.” For some unexplainable reason I was more surprised and embarrassed by the uncharacteristically prim sound of my own voice echoing in the room than I was at the fact that I was carrying on a conversation with an apparition.

I realized the voice was taking on form as long perfectly manicured fingers, flashing Revlon’s Fire and Ice nail polish from the 50’s reached over my shoulder and picked up the manuscript I had just printed. She read the title aloud, “Cantos in Red. Hmmm… Now where do you think this came from? Who do you think has been propping you up at this computer all day and all night for the last six weeks?”

Then, peering at the poem that had showed up on my computer screen, she said, “And where do you think this little number came from?”

“I don’t even like that poem!” I said petulantly.

“Proving my point.” she noted, intensifying the tension between us. “Just what do you in your exalted opinion think is wrong with it?”

“Well, for one thing, it’s a Calligrama! A form I never use. A form I find just too — if you’ll forgive the pun— just too contrived for words.”

“What about ee cummings?” She queried.

“Screw ee cummings!” I said, my awe at her presence overcome by my feelings of being not only invaded but challenged.

Well, it was at this point that she and I got into a terrible quarrel, even though I know better than to fight with a red-head. Especially one wearing a long, flimsy, bias-cut, red sequined, vintage twenties evening gown at four frickin’ o’clock in the morning.

She started quoting a bunch of stuff from Ben Shahn like “Form is the right and only possible shape of a certain content.” I told her that even more than the shape of the thing, it was the content that I found offensive. I tried to explain that it was just too, well, “occult” sounding, and that I had put away all of that sort of thing years ago because of my, well… my being a Christian and all.

To this she responded, “Oh, are you afraid that you’re going to get struck with a bolt of lightning by that old bearded guy on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?”

“Well yes!” I said. “Aren’t you?”

“Well, of course!” she exclaimed , as though I were the idiot who raised the question in the first place. She then, with great indignation and emphasized with much hand waving launched into a lecture, “Excuse me! That is the peril in which, not only prophets, but artists and their muses live and breathe and have our existence, is it not? How do you think Mikie felt lying up there on top of all that scaffolding month after month after having been explicitly told by the “old guy” whose portrait he was painting not to create any graven images?”

Well, she had me there and she knew it so she launched into yet another tangent paraphrasing (and this was a reach, even for her) W. Terrance Gordon synthesizing Marshall McLuhan, claiming that it turns out that content is an illusion, and how, as an artist, it was my job to “sharpen cliche’s into new forms that jolt us into awareness.”

Well, she seemed to know or pretend to know everything from A to Z about everyone from Abraham to Zedekiah, majoring in “M” for Michelangelo, McLuhan, and yours truly, McCloud. Oh, and speaking of King Zedekiah, she actually claimed to have provided some kind of inspiration and protection for his daughter Teia Tephi who had become Queen of Ireland back around, I don’t know, 583 B.C. or something.

She then threw in my face how I was always talking about how the devil had co-opted the mysteries and powers with which God had gifted women and called them his own, and how he had even convinced the church that it was he who was master of these mysteries, and how his doing so had accomplished making them forbidden to the Bride of Christ by the very church itself. She reminded me how I was always saying that the Bride must take back her power and establish it firmly at the foot of the cross.

Well, that was just a bit too fundamentalist to be what I may have actually said, but close enough by her standards. She then called me a coward and told me to “Put up or shut up.”

Then with streaks of shimmering ribbons in every color of red that light has ever touched, and raggedy old veils of streaming vermillion, she, apparently able to become whatever size necessary to fit any space, draped herself seductively across the top of my big orange iMac as though it were her chaise lounge, covering my desk with ruby spills, scattered sequins, and a shattering of glistening shards.

In a sudden shift to the Stella Mac voice that I love, she  proceeded to explain that due to the determination, committment, perseverance, grueling study, and hard work I had put in to become a writer, she had been called to serve as the gateway through which I was to be enabled to write things beyond my own capability and imaginings. She explained that not only did this include providing inspiration and the strength to withstand obsession, but that she would protect me. But it did make me a little nervous when she giggled and said, “And Honey, where we’re going, are you ever going to need protection.”

“From what?” I asked, realizing matters were not in my control and had not been for some time.

She winked, and stretching out a wing of feathers the color of fire, said, “From the servants of the Evil One who does not want you to write about the Kabbalah of our mothers. You know, the wisdom of our mothers in the Old Testament: Eve, Oniyah Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel. Don’t look at me like that. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Trying to calm myself, I picked up a cigarette (yes, I still smoked back then) thinking she would probably get on my case about that too, or even leave. Instead she whipped out a silver Zippo, exuding that subtle lighter fluid perfume, and lit my cigarette. She then lit one for herself, exhaled a long stream of smoke and said “Let’s get to work.”

By the way, she claimed to have gotten the lighter from F. Scott Fitzgerald, but wouln’t show me the engraving, so who knows? As I got to know her better in the days and nights that followed, I figured it was more likely that it had come from Zelda.

But that first writing session started, as though providing her final credentials, with her reciting the poem that had magically appeared on my computer screen shaped kind of like a chalice. The poem that would introduce the first chapter of my book. This is what she said and this is the way what she said looks.


We gathered up the knives of the God of our lives

and the swords of our wisdom and words,

gathered the prayer stones of our sages,

gathered the cards of our pages,

gathered club, cup, and star;

shuffled and hid them in

the rug and furniture

of the camel that




in the direction

towards Bethlehem,

carrying with her the secret

code of the Qabalah of Our Mothers.

If you hurry you can still catch her, along

with all of the others, at an address in Genesis

31:31, but you will not be allowed to search her, nor

to make her return, for upon her is the custom of women.