CATHERINE MASI

"I wanted to be a rainbow fairy. 
It’s what I decided, then and there at circle time, when asked by my teacher in preschool; which was situated across from an apple orchard and next door to the home of a friendly witch, as I recall. This premise-otherworldly, colorful-would reemerge in fortuitous ways throughout my life as if to act as a gentle reminder to keep going.

I also wanted to be a teacher like my parents. And as a child, growing up in a wooded neighborhood in Western Massachusetts, I set up an area in our basement that resembled a miniature classroom... a green chalkboard, a shelf with scrap paper and foraged art supplies, and a little round table where I placed dolls and stuffed animals to play the part of my then real-life classmates. On the other side of the basement stairs was a makeshift music room where my brothers and their friends (and sometimes I, though not nearly as well) wailed out to Black Sabbath, Rush, and Led Zeppelin. Around the corner from that, was my dad’s tool station. I would sit on an ever-growing stack of National Geographic magazines and watch him, my favorite human, tinker with projects. Spackle, a Phillips head screwdriver, and duct tape in heavy rotation. Back on the other side of the basement, next to my classroom, was an area with a couch, my sister’s roller skates that were too big for me but that I still wore, and bookshelves that held most of my mom’s stuff; like her drawings of roses that I would eventually relegate to my classroom space, piles of Better Homes and Gardens magazines, and a brown and white polka dot polyester scarf that she wore when she started losing her hair while going through chemotherapy.

My mother died from leukemia on Friday the 13th at the age of 45, when I was 6 years old. Her passing left behind a loving husband and six uniquely spirited children. I was the youngest; a born daydreamer and a frolicsome dancer (“Twinkle Toes”, as my dad would call me); habitudes that would prove to help carry me through the most difficult times in my life. I believe it was my mom’s death that catapulted me into a boundless solitary imagination of magical thinking, weighed down with significantly less fear and grief than my world outside of it insisted upon.

Before mom died, and perhaps it was at the time she viscerally knew she wouldn’t be on this earth for much longer, she told me to look for a rainbow on my birthday which ended up being about six months after she passed. On the morning of my seventh birthday, I peeked out my bedroom window which faced the backwoods. No rainbow. Non-deterred, and still in my nightgown, I put on white lace-ruffled ankle socks, my yellow tennis shoes, then walked outside to the front of the house. And there, on that misty August morning, with the sunshine making its way, was a rainbow. Perfect, miraculous, implausible. And, at last, a swift rush of relief… there will always be the rainbow, I thought.

It took me years, through childhood to adulthood, of compartmentalizing fearful thoughts from grief and isolation, to meet with the broader understanding of life. I would come to experience more trauma, but there isn’t enough room to get into that here (though I will share that these were the impetuses for fueling my heart and mind for social justice). All of which lead to the realization that I carried myself through by looking for the light, and if not being able to see it just then, then by diving into a most colorful dreamy imagination. I guess it’s what is often referred to as one’s “Happy Place”. And I believe it to be a vital force in creating the essence of a well-loved life. Sometimes in these daydreams, I was an artist, sometimes a dance teacher, sometimes an art teacher; always working with children. I was also always living by the ocean in a little cottage with dogs and about 10 adopted kids. Fields of wildflowers all around. And, of course, a rainbow. I’m a grown woman and I still fantasize about rainbows and flowers. But most of this has come true in some form or another. I now live along the California coast, in a darling tiny home, having loved the best dogs and the most wonderful family and friends, nieces, and nephews. And the flowers? Have you seen Santa Barbara? They’re everywhere. The rainbows? Sometimes I catch them, sometimes I desperately, though ultimately fruitlessly, search them out when the sun bursts through after a rainfall. But mostly the rainbows come to me through my work, first during my years as a creative movement and art teacher, and now as a designer and creative director… I work endlessly in light and color, and definitely dreams.

Which is what I find compelling about life: If we pay attention, the unfolding of its essence aligns with the notes of our dreams. It expands in proportion to our courage. Even the tiniest shift in perspective toward light and hope matters to the overall unfolding. Don’t waste life, I’ve many times over had to remind myself. Be kind, be compassionate. Stay curious, look for solutions and not the hopelessness of the world’s challenges. Let yourself be drawn to those who share hope and optimism. The insightful ones. The dreamers who can both be and do. The kind-hearted. The witty. Those who can still laugh, unencumbered, amidst hardship. And for those who feel like they can’t or don’t want to, I feel ya. Just do good when you recognize the option. It, if nothing else, feels better. And that’s a powerful and necessary incremental shift.

It’s what any practiced rainbow fairy will tell you… Be and look for signals of light. Then watch how the colors manifest themselves in this one precious life you’re creating." 

Nathan Williamson