I stood at the top of the orchard and took one picture after another, lowering the camera in between to sigh and breathe the chill, pink air.
At some point I became aware of Toby standing off to one side of the outermost trees, watching me. P 26
I seem to have misplaced myself somewhere. You wouldn’t think it would be as easy as setting your keys down in an unlikely spot or forgetting where you accidentally stacked this week’s library books– but I have managed to do it. I’m not sure if it was effortless or if it actually took some work on my part. Shouldn’t I know? How do I not?
Maybe it’s just one of those things that happens to all of us. Skin cells totally replace every seven years or so, so in a sense we are always remaking ourselves and slithering off the old skin like the snake that resides in our stone walled garden. But this feels different.
So I’ve been looking round corners, under rugs, in the back of closets behind bins of clothes that should really be donated. No luck.
Yet I’ve noticed that I feel a jolt of recognition in books that I read. Most recently these are somewhat darker and edgier, and it concerns me a bit to think that that is who I’ve become. That me in my 40’s is quite a different reader from the 30’s me. I see that in the quotes I’ve pulled from books I’ve read. I still connect with some and others leave me wondering why I chose that passage.
Just this week I felt a fierce connection to these words:
‘It’s been no small task I had to be 195 people first’ “Becoming Me” a blackout poem by Austin Kleon
and Terry Tempest Williams as quoted by Dani Shapiro ‘A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.’ from Before Women were Birds
It’s the becoming that interests me and all those pieces that are joined together to form a whole. Somehow the cracks are necessary, meaning there is an essentialness to be found in the in-between.
Examining those flaws, I’m discovering more about myself everyday; not just in books or words, but in actions and choices. I used to be someone who lived for Spring, and that perfect shot of the magnolia tree in bloom. We lost ours at the Library this year and when I went around to photograph a few others around town, I noticed the thrill was gone. The sun has been reluctant to shine and so it became a real endeavor to even get some time with them. And when I got there, they were past their peak and the breeze was causing a rustling, which somehow aligned with my quivering insides. Looking at the photos later, I wondered why I had even bothered.
But then, in the way that form often follows function, the overflowing laundry hamper led me to visit the nearest laundromat last Sunday. And while the clothes were becoming clean I stepped outside to be greeted by three apple trees. Grabbing my ever- trusty camera (almost rusty from disuse) which had somehow been left in the car, I spent some time with them— between the trees, inside the spaces of the branches and lingering in the aperatures amongst the blossoms. While I clicked and focused, the quaking of my quivering insides ceased. I stepped back into my childhood; happy to be the girl that lived for climbing trees and hanging upside-down and giving neighbors reasons to shake their heads at my naive bravado.
I know I can’t be that girl anymore. I’m not the teen who stopped climbing, nor I am the woman who wanted to give birth to a girl who felt at home up high in the branches. I’m not even the same mom who gave birth to a curly haired son and rejoiced.
I am now a woman whose son lives at home less than two months of the year. That’s at the crux of this identity search. The other day T and I got into a loud argument. I played the “I am the parent, so do as I say” card. It was a last ditch effort, a desperate move to give myself a name, a role, a purpose. We went our separate ways and when we came together again, I could feel him looking at me. It was as if his view somehow defined me. I got the sense that he saw the negative space, that what was around me gave the boundaries and parameters of the image.
“But,” I wanted to say, “That’s not me.”
It’s a struggle to see myself as someone other than the woman who needs to be bribed with something sweet in order to sit down and write. Or the woman who tries to garden but swells up enormously when bitten by a bug.
It’s difficult to look past bookstore customers and library patrons and their thoughts of who I am in relation to how I can help them. It’s not easy to walk away from that and gain the distance needed to get a truer perspective. Their needs are entangled with my innate desire to help.
I don’t want to be defined by my To Do list, or my inability to cross off even half of what I put on there. As much as I wish I could be defined by the manuscript waiting for me, I won’t be known as a writer until I sit down and put myself on the page.
One of those days when I was trying to avoid writing and working, I fell down a rabbit hole. After tumbling down, I found Miyazaki by way of Roger Ebert and Kyo Maclear. The filmmaker was discussing the “ma,” spaces between.
‘He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness, But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.”’
Ma. It’s an interesting concept and one I want to explore. But I just realized it’s also another word for mother. Ma. Mother. Mom. Mommy. Mama. Momma. Mum. Mumma. And each of those only scratches the surface of the woman behind the name. Maybe the secret is being still enough to see it.