Try To Remember

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After a long hard day, Benny comes home from work and gives me permission to escape while he does bedtime. Mina is tired and clingy, holding tight to my leg and crying as I’m trying to rush upstairs, a beer in one hand. As I write in my journal I hear her sobbing desperately, “MAMAAAA!! MAMAAA!!” and try to resist the urge to go and comfort her.

I write a page and a half, then stop, a few tears spilling down my cheeks- wishing that writing was still fun and fulfilling, that I had exciting things to breathlessly write about, like when I was younger. I put the journal aside and rummage around in a box of old journals, which is what I do when I want to remember what it felt like to be young and free. I find an entry that was part of a timed writing practice I used to do in college that was led by my favorite Philosophy professor, Terri Elliott. Sometimes he would grab a book, flip it open to a random page and point to a sentence, and that would be our writing prompt.

9. 28. 2002

“Keep going, you’ll end up in your mother’s womb.”

Womb. Mother. Keep going. My mother. I was a cesarean birth. My mother, holding my naked baby body by the armpits- her long hair, my short soft fuzz on big baby head.

Keep going down that road, searching for a way home and all you’ll find, all you’ll find is where you began, curled up, eyes closed and slowly grasping fingers. The way back to the beginning.

She hears me,  I think. She listens for my heart and when it’s tender and bruised she calls me- she gently prods and quietly asks, and my tears flow, my heart blooms and embraces hers.

I am grateful.

Her art on my walls, her careful splatterings of paint and collage, words, little books that describe her day, her thoughts, her wonder of my life and my doings, of my love… Her ways of expression so similar to my own- as are her ways of sorrow and her ways of confusion. Her joy. Her joy, my joy. For her I am grateful.

And I hope for now, for my womb to remain vacant. I hope for my maternal ways to be reserved for loved ones and myself. I wonder about children and what strange things they are. Childhood, how that was not you and is not you and yet you know it was and is, and you wonder of your parents and their lives before you were born and it’s hard to imagine until you reach the age that your mother was when she got married.

I dream of my parents, of their meeting and falling in love, I see and feel through their eyes, as if memories can be passed down to your children, I think they can. We all have these previous lives hidden within us that we take for granted, but at one time it was your only life.

Think of your mother, pregnant with you, sitting in a chair at home. Alone, silent, gazing out the window, or at her own hands. Imagine her there- her young face, her clear eyes, her thoughts of life, her fear, her quiet love for you, resting inside of her. You are a womb yourself. You carry your own life inside of you, clusters of sweet jewels, a gleaming pomegranate. You forget sometimes, why you are alive. You forget what has lived before you. Take time to sit still and you will remember- the knowing of it pure and solid like a warm stone in your lap.

 

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Note to Self

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Dear Serra,

Remember when you used to do that thing where you would say “Hi Serra” out loud sometimes when you found yourself alone in a room? It always spooked you, to acknowledge verbally your own undeniable existence. To confront yourself as you would another.

You have always loved yourself. You have always been your own best friend. You have always needed long stretches of time alone to reconnect, to establish a self independent of others, to remember and review and recollect. To renew. As a child you would spend time alone in your room listening to music, drawing, looking through your microscope, carefully going through the treasures in your special cupboard- keys, stones, coins, toys, shells. You had friends at school but would sometimes tuck yourself away- in a tree, in the gazebo, behind a book- to be alone.

You have always felt strong, solid, stable. Even in your wildest years, your hardest hurts, your deepest longings, at the core of yourself you are unbreakable. This is what you’ve always known. As a teenager you would experiment, break rules, get drunk, make out with strangers at music shows, get lost, explore. But always come home to your journal, your guitar, your family. You knew there was always a safe place to return to.

All your life you’ve loved naps, time away from the world, time where you can be silent and invisible. Time where you’re not seeing yourself through anyone else’s eyes. Time to be internal. So many solo walks, solo bike rides, solo hours collaging, painting, writing. So many solo trips to the movies, to the beach, down the trail. Hours spent with only the feel of your body moving through the world, the sound of your own breath. You were often lonely. Solitude at times felt like a crushing weight, like a cage.

At 23 you fell in love; at 26 you married. And at 32 you had a baby, a child who looks like you and your husband, who loves drawing and music and jokes and climbing trees, dinosaurs and dragons and unicorns. Having a child changed you, transformed you, almost broke you. She almost broke you because, for the first time, you were taken away from yourself. You no longer were able to sit down daily with your journal, with your art. You were held back from following your instincts and desires. You had to learn how to want something and not get it. After a while you all but forgot how to want. You lost almost all your independence, something so necessary for you that to lose it was a total loss of self. Although your daughter is five years old now, you still struggle with this every day, how to carve away some time for yourself, how to keep the core of yourself strong and real, alive.

Today you turn 37. In three months your daughter will start kindergarten, essentially giving you your life back. I admire the work you’ve done so far as a mother, raising your child and doing as much as you can to care for yourself and husband as well. You have given more of yourself than I would have thought possible. I know it’s been hard, and has taken you to the extent of your capabilities. Your self is still there, although you haven’t spent much one on one time with her in a while. I know you’re tired, I know sometimes you feel sad and hopeless, and miss parts of yourself and wish for certain times of your past. I know life pulls on too many parts of you. I know that much of the time your jaw is clenched and your shoulders tight, your mind spinning. I know sometimes you feel guilty when you want things, because so many people have so little. I know all this and I wish for you to breathe, loosen, sing. Please know that you’ll have your time, you’ll get yourself back. For most of your life, what you wanted came to you easily. Now you know what it’s like to fight for it. Keep fighting. Keep wanting. Keep being thrilled by color, shape, sounds, smells. Be tender. Be alive every day, whatever that means to you. Embrace it all, even the hard stuff. And remember to say stop by and say hello- don’t be a stranger.

Who’s In Your Mirror

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I was 20 years old and on a Greyhound bus from Seattle to Denver, for no real reason other than I had taken a semester off from Chico State and wanted to head East for once. The drive took several days, and at one point during the trip we were stopped at some random town somewhere, it was night, and the interior lights went on. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window across the aisle, and after so much time of being alone among strangers I was struck by the familiarity of my own face and overcome with an aching love for myself. I suddenly came to the realization that one day I would be gone from this earth and I missed myself fiercely, wishing that I could stay until I decided, on my own terms, when to go.

When I think of that moment now, it’s about confronting one’s own mortality but also about how we’re always saying goodbye to some old version of ourselves, often not realizing it in the moment. That was a self that was single, childless, still searching, still constructing my own version of the world and what about it was important to me. Part of me feels like that was the truest version of myself and always will be. Sometimes I think about that moment as a goodbye to the girl version of me, who still had so much to learn.

Here’s the thing: I have this dichotomy happening in me right now. Since Mina’s birth I’ve been grappling with this question of who I am now. When I gave birth to a child, my old self died. So suddenly and completely that I can’t compare it to any other event in my life. For the first time in my life, I felt that I didn’t matter. It wasn’t about me anymore. I stopped looking in the mirror- Mina was my mirror. When someone asked me how I was, I would respond with Mina’s state of being. For a while none of my needs were important to me, except to keep myself functional so I could care for my baby. In some ways it was liberating- so much of my life up to that point was spent focusing on myself, my wants and needs and feelings, my appearance, my identity; how freeing to feel selfless for once, without ego, without ambition aside from being this child’s mom.

But every day it got a little easier to remember my self and put energy towards doing those things I used to do. As she gets older I am remembering how to be an individual person; but now I have to get reacquainted with myself, like seeing an old friend again after years of living overseas. I slowly got back into art, music, writing, reading, biking, friends, time with Benny, time alone. But of course it was different. Motherhood has changed every single thing about me. I feel like there is still an umbilical cord connecting me and my daughter. She is still my mirror.

The funny thing is, I’ve gotten used to the feeling that I don’t matter. When I became a mother, my vision suddenly zoomed out- I saw the whole world in her, every person who has ever lived and ever will live. I saw my place in the cycle of life, I saw her place in my family tree and the family tree of all humanity. I understood my parents better, and I understood my childhood better. The combination of motherhood and growing older has given me a much bigger view of things. So much so that it’s hard to stay within the confines of my small self and my small life- I find myself often looking down from above, trying to make sense of the whole ecosystem. I’m often struck by the strangeness of the human experience, how lucky and how cursed we all are. How complex and intelligent and how foolish and weak.

Part of me wants to figure out who I am now and establish a fresh identity, and part of me thinks, “Who cares?” I don’t matter and I kind of like it that way. Working to establish an identity is the work of someone younger. I’ve heard it said that the first half of your life is for building your ego; the second half of your life is for dissolving it. I want to be pliable, flexible, open, unguarded. I want to keep a loose grip on who I think I am and what I believe in. I want to flow in and out of everyone, hear and feel others, go by different names, find kinship with the changing seasons. I want to feel comfortable saying goodbye to an old part of myself, knowing that being a part of this world means that she was never meant to stay.

 

 

I took this self portrait at Burning Man when I was 20. This was supposedly a mirror that showed your “true self”- not a mirror image but the way others see you. 

Learning From My Younger Self

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Can I say what I need to say? Is it okay to say this?

I ache. Not deeply, but it’s there; like a campfire that I’m sitting a bit too close to. It’s starting to sear my knees, so I cover my knees with my hands, the coolness a brief relief- until it’s the tops of my hands that start to burn.

I savor the ache. It means something. It means I can still want, I can still write, create, yearn. It’s an ache for my past self, my wild self who I didn’t know well enough to control, who was not yet fully formed, who was still cracked open enough to allow for such a range of possibility that to acknowledge it made me dizzy.

Yet as I biked home from work today, a little drunk and speeding through the fresh cool air, blood pumping and sweat drying and my old plaid flannel shirt flapping I thought, she’s still here, she’s still in me. That kid, that 18 year old, still hungry for experience and movement and passion and life. She’s still me.

But why do I idolize her so much? Surely I’m better now, stronger, more caring, smarter, with a certain beauty from cheekbones and laugh lines and stretch marks, glimmerings of silver at my temples. Oh but that girl- she teetered at the precipice and I’ll never again know that feeling. The certainty that life was a treasure map and I had everything I needed to get to that big X and start digging. A time when desire consumed me entirely; I was just a walking want and there was no reason why I should not pursue my every impulse.

I guess I miss feeling desires, acknowledging them, pursuing them. I’ve almost all but forgotten how to want something and go after it. I miss that selfish kid, that wild girl burning with a fire that wouldn’t stop until she had consumed the whole town.

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I’ve been reading old journals again. I can’t help myself. I’m surprised how many times I can go back to them, how they are still magnetic, throbbing with life and meaning.

It’s an escape. It’s a time portal to the time in my life when I felt the most free, the most alive, the most juicy and anguished and curious and open to magic. Sometimes I look at the warped, torn, frantic, messy pages of a journal from 2004 and wonder what it would be like to pop in on that 22 year old girl in a coffee shop and say, “Hey- it’s me. I mean, it’s you, 13 years from now. I’m 35 and I’m married and have a three year old daughter and live in Portland and well, just keep writing, okay? Because this time is more important than you realize. And don’t worry about all the flings and your heart that is constantly drawn and quartered because it’s not going to last. You’re only a year away from meeting the boy you will marry so relax. Forgive yourself. Be wild, sink into it. Take notes. Cherish your friends. Ride your bike at night, gaze at the river, go to jazz night and drink your whiskey and cokes. Don’t try so hard to find love and just revel in passion.”

Reading these journals, some of the entries flow so perfectly, it’s almost impossibly cosmic the way life fit together in a chaotically poetic way at that time, people flowing in and out of the scene, entering the room as I’m writing about them- so many interruptions and experiences happening lightning fast there was no way to keep the journal up to date. But it’s there, incomplete, and just a few notes is enough to expand it 3-D in my head and heart. I feel everything when I read it.

I think I knew who I was early on in my life, not too many years of searching and doubt- so when I read back on old journals the setting is different, the day to day life has changed, but it’s the same person writing, noticing, feeling, wanting. When I read about life in 2004 it’s almost like a parallel life. It doesn’t feel far away even though it’s impossible to get to.

“I don’t like to dwell on the past,” Benny said when I was talking to him about this stuff. I agreed but I also had to point out, “I think my past self has something to teach me. It seems like a conversation. Like the past is still alive somehow, time isn’t linear.”

All my selves, past, present, and future- exist simultaneously and if I concentrate hard enough, I can access any or all of them.

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I had a moment today, suddenly as I was driving: it was a thought of how I’ve been idolizing my younger self so much lately and that’s fine I guess, but I realized just how much my present self has that my younger self didn’t. I have a self-assurance now that’s actually based on experience and not cocky ignorance. I’ve made so many mistakes that I never have to make again if I choose not to. I don’t have to just blunder my way through, day to day. I’m a grown-ass woman and I’ve worked hard to get here. I’m at a position where I could actually give someone wise, thoughtful advice if asked. I understand gratification and I understand sacrifice. I understand selfishness and compassion. The world seems bigger now- infinite. My ego is dwindling. I think I could one day be one of those older people whose eyes glow with brilliance and kindness; who have a knowing that’s come with an acceptance of not knowing. I don’t want to lose my wildness but for a moment I was fully grateful for all the years I’ve accumulated and how they’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. For a moment I felt like, if someone showed up in a time machine and offered me a ride back to my 20’s, I would just wave them off.

As we get older we have these choices, every day we have them- what parts of ourselves to keep, and what to let go. I think I’ve been reading my old journals as kind of a cumulative review- taking inventory. I like my old self but there’s a lot about her I’m not proud of, that I’m eager to discard; and I’m also clearing out some space for parts of myself I’m still working on, that I want to see get bigger. I’m realizing more and more that although I am a product of my upbringing, my environment, my culture- my life didn’t happen to me. I chose it, and every day I choose it. This is the adventure I decided on. Sure, I may miss that feeling of groping in the darkness, of careening off into the unknown, but making choices and committing to the path you’ve chosen is the real work.

A Long Time Coming

Art has always been a part of my life in some form or another. I’ve always made time for art alongside work and school and relationships, and oftentimes I’ve blended art into the other aspects of my life so that it becomes not a separate category but just a way of being and seeing. I remember coming home after a day at college studying Symbolic Logic, Metaphysics, and US History, and diving into my box of collage materials and reveling in brilliant, nonsensical chaos. A few years ago I took on the challenge of creating a daily diary comic, which I did for ten months (see Blog Archive Feb 2011 to Oct 2011).

So imagine how I felt when, a few months after giving birth to my daughter, I sadly packed up most my art supplies and moved my art desk to the basement. We just didn’t have the space for it and honestly, I was having difficulty imagining a scenario in the future where I might have the time, energy, and inspiration to sit at my desk and create something.

But a few months ago we bought a house, and we have twice as much space as we did before. I was able to set up an art area again. Also, Mina has been going to bed earlier, around 8:30 instead of her old bed time of 11:00. So I have a few hours in the evening to paint.

  
  

During those 18 months when I wasn’t really making art, sometimes I would  fantasize about the art that I would make if I could. I always pictured bright, colorful paintings, messy but detailed, with some white space, with little to no outlines. It’s so satisfying to see them in front of me, coming to life through my brush, these creatures that have been waiting so long to arrive.

(Side note: This blog post was written on my iphone while I lay on the bed nursing my squirmy, teething toddler so that she could nap.)