Note to Self

selfportrait

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.

The Living Wind

You know how I was talking about how sometimes your past self has something to teach you? Well, once in a while I find some old writing that reminds me who I am in my best moments and it’s so reassuring to find it and meet her again.

Since looking for that last entry about The Vagina Monologues I’ve had a stack of journals on my desk and I thought, since they were out, I’d flip through them a bit and see if there was anything else interesting. I found a journal from the spring of 2001 and found myself engulfed in my tragic and tangled love life, when I was involved in not so much of a love triangle as more of a love hexagon. It’s so clear to me now what I needed to do then, but of course at the time I was completely confused. I was foolish and so selfish, I thought as I read through it. My past self teaches me so much, I wish I could return the favor and whisper a little advice backwards 17 years.

“Tell the truth,” I would say to her. There was so much unintentional deception happening, as a result of trying to protect everyone involved. It just made it worse, of course, but I didn’t see that then.

When I came across this entry it was a relief, a moment when I felt complete pride and love for my younger self. She reminds me how to be open and present and alive.

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(No date, because I didn’t date any entry in this whole journal because, well, I didn’t think the date would ever matter?)

Today was haunting as I stepped outside though it took me a while to notice it for what it was and not just an inconvenience. I think it was when I went into Cafe Max and took off all my jackets and scarves and bought a cup of coffee from the morose, goatee’d guy behind the counter, I realized there was no way I could stay inside- I just couldn’t do it for some reason even though it was raining and gray and windy as hell out there. So I went back out- there were no tables or chairs on the sidewalk anywhere so I sat on the church steps and sipped coffee and watched people walk down the street.

I noticed that some people marched with their heads down, hands in pockets, everything wrapped around them and shut off, protected- and some people walked with their bodies pressed against the wind, their heads up, necks exposed, welcoming it and moving with it. I realize that on my way to the coffee shop I’d been walking the first way, as if the wind was an obstacle or an enemy.

So I got up from the steps and continued on down the street, learning how to feel the wind move through me- I took off my scarf and let the wind be my scarf. I took my hands out of my pockets to embrace it. I was drawn to the trees-

stood underneath a pine tree, pressed my back against the trunk, looked up into the monstrous thrashing branches as they dipped and danced, deafening roars of wind through the trees, all over. I could feel the movement and energy and even heat through the trunk- I hummed, throat vibrant, as the tall beings bent and sang. The grass rippled in shining waves as if bristling with a life of its own, and leaves chased each other across it.

Suddenly, a crash- and scanning, I saw a fallen tree, gray branches reaching sideways and thick trunk heavy on the soft ground. I gasped and ran to it, heard a siren in the distance, imagined it was an ambulance coming to save it-

thick knot of mud-choked roots, dripping, what used to be in dark wet warmth now cold and exposed, oh its long body, sad and sprawled, oh its bright white wounds of underflesh that I took off my glove to touch, moist and young. Caked and crumbling mud that I pulled a chunk from, held it in my left hand as I walked away, softly forming it into a ball.

I was late meeting up with Nate at the library, but he was late too. When he showed up, he shouted, “Let’s do homework later and go for a bike ride! It’s beautiful outside!”

I felt alive

Like a challenge, like a fight, like a test.

We ran into Crystal and Justin. Justin was still wearing his pink hat. We walked, the four of us. I left my jacket open to help the wind in. I took off my glasses to fall more into the world- couldn’t discern between this and that, couldn’t discriminate, waved to everyone thinking I knew them, didn’t care about my reflection in the glass. Who knows where we are.

Fences are fallen. Misplaced possessions. Parts of roofs on sidewalks. Bleeding oranges on the street. At Crystal’s house, there are large branches in her yard. Her grass is smooth and long, undulating. The playground across the street was built over a cemetery. Inside her house, my skin feels swept and clean and swollen, like I’d just gone swimming in the ocean. She fed us soup and tea. Justin and I ventured to the haunted playground and Nate climbed high into the redwood tree, so high all I could see was the yellow of his jacket.

Later, we went with Crystal back to the library to look up a photographer named Brassi- marred recollections, shining black and white images of large ended pale women posing in Paris, in the wet brick streets, in the misty night, with fleeting expressions now caged in a heavy book in a heavy library

on a windy night, somewhere else.

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Who’s In Your Mirror

true self

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.