Wednesday, April 29, 2015

tell me who i am

1. Tell me who I am
When I was young, I thought I was adopted. I realize this is not unusual. Others have their stories of assumed outsider status. There must be something deep in our psyche (or spirit) that tries to convince us we don't belong. But there are signs we do, or at least there were for me. I was tall like my dad, with the facial bone structure of my mom. Then, I looked almost identical to my sister 18 month older than me, and now when I hear her on the phone, I hear my own voice talking back to me. Our smiles, our cheeks, they are all the same. And though I don't remember birth, my mother does. She knows I came out of her.

Adoption is not the most horrible story to make up about yourself. Though the implication is, "I am the one who is not like the others," the story could also be about being sought out, acceptance and love. Not left alone without a family, not ultimately separated from all others, you are now part of a family that is trying to convince you that you are one of their own. Why not just believe them?

During those years when I wanted to belong just as much as I wanted to break apart, I just needed my family to keep telling me who I was.

2. Nature of a hunch
At a writing conference I attended a few weeks ago, I noticed a theme of the "hunch." One writer used it when telling the story of her Polish family, and how she felt in her gut that their story of immigration had deeper, more traumatic roots. This leading depended not on words but clues she subconsciously gathered and stored somewhere inside. Eventually, her hunch led her to keep pressing until she confirmed what she had already come to assume: her family was Jewish, and her grandmother had left the country to escape the genocide during World War II.

Another writer spoke about how he didn't talk until he was relatively old, 4 or 5 even. There are things he learned with his body that he couldn't (or didn't need to) put words to. Much of what he feels is pre-verbal, or extra-verbal. It is knowing outside of words that define.

A hunch is like a kick from inside the womb of a pregnant woman. It helps you know you carry something living, though you don't know yet who or what it will be.

3. Brave is something else
A track olympian has told us that, "for all intents and purposes," he is a woman. He is following what his gut is telling him about his true self. Following that hunch, if you will. And people are proclaiming this as brave. I can't help but think that brave is something else. I admit that I have little personal experience with transgender issues. I have never wanted to be any gender but female. But I have felt myself trying to be someone I know now that I'm not. I think we all feel, to some extent, that we are stuck in bodies that don't express all of who we are. I am tall but I often feel average, and wish my height reflected how I'd like to be seen.

I wonder if being brave means knowing which hunches are really whatever it is that tells us we don't belong, and choosing instead to listen to the voices that tell us who we really are. The living things, inside us and around us.

Monday, April 20, 2015

the 100 day project: like basting a turkey, and other creative thoughts

A few of you might have heard about the 100 day project. For those who haven't, the rules are simple: pick a way to be creative every day for 100 consecutive days, then document it on social media for accountability/community. Remembering how fun and useful and focusing other streaks I've done have been (my blog every day in May streak, and then my #rwrunstreak, documented on Instagram), I knew I wanted to join in. A day or two later I used Instagram to post part of a poem that had become meaningful to me and used a photo I thought had the feel of the poem and that's where I found my 100 day task: caption an original photo (by me) with a poem I choose (not by me).

(Yes, this blog post is in part a plug for my Instagram feed. Follow me! My nieces and nephews keep asking how many likes they get when I post their photos, and they are clearly un-impressed by my following. I promise photos of cute kids, scenic runs and, now, poetry.)

But more than a scheme to get more followers, this project is about fostering creativity. The image of basting just came to mind when I thought of the term "creative juices." I'm not a huge meat eater, so the image isn't the most appealing to me, but it's a true one. This creative streak is about keeping things juicy with the hopes of serving up something good real soon.

It's been two weeks since the 100 day project started. Time to reflect:

  • Choosing a poem a day requires me to read lots of poetry. And poems require slow, sometimes repeated, reading. Some days I'm not so discerning, and may just skim a few before I find one I want to post. Other days, I've sat with a poetry book and read deeply and slowly.
  • Being quick and dirty about creative work is useful. It helps me to let go of perfection, and sometimes even understand a hunch or gut response that led me to match a photo with a poem, or take a photo from a certain angle, etc. (Or sometimes it's the opposite, like, there is nothing of value in that - which is ok!)
  • Choosing two mediums that are not my own craft (not a photographer, not a poet - though I love both images and words) helps me to disconnect myself from the product. Both also refine the way I see, hear and think, which has been fun.
  • I like that I'm promoting the reading of poetry. Posting poetry on Instagram makes me feel slightly subversive because it's all about scrolling, quick looks, a tap for a like. I don't know if everyone who likes the poetry-captioned photos are reading the poems (or just liking the photo itself) but if I can help one person to discover something or slow down while reading a poem they wouldn't have normally read, that's a win.
  • Reading more poetry has helped me get more words in me. I think of it as eating, swallowing. I have more heft as a writer. My mind sings more. I have been thinking in story and image. This is a very good thing for me.
I may have more to say as the project goes on. But for now - see all of my poetry-captioned photos here! And if you have a favorite poem, I'll consider requests.

Monday, April 6, 2015

sliding down and losing control

Every summer, my family took a day trip to Dorney Park and Wild Water Kingdom. On the wave swinger, my sisters and I dangled our legs and felt the wind blow into our faces and the up and down of the ride lift our stomachs and then plop them back down again. We raced for the seats at the very back of the sea dragon so that we would be at the very highest tip as the ride swung back and forth until it was nearly vertical. And we closed our eyes and screamed.

At the water slides, we waited in long, slow lines as they climbed up wooden steps and platforms to the top of the yellow, lubed tubes. Down below, kids splashed and screamed in the water. My dad was sitting on a bench somewhere nearby with the small Coleman cooler that held our lunch, or the remnants of it, and my mom likely stood closer to the pool to watch us as we sailed off the slide and hit the water below.

When I was still fairly young, there was one time that I climbed behind my sisters and they slid down ahead of me while I waited my turn. Then I came to the front, and the teen-aged summer worker in charge of the ride waved me forward toward the slide. All alone, I realized I didn’t want to slide all the way down from that high up. I don’t remember now what scared me about sliding down in to the water, but I do remember turning around. After waiting so long for what I thought would be a lovely thrill, a cool splash in water on a hot day, what might have made me giggle or whip my head back in delight, what would have been gravity playing its part to pull me under water in the most delightfully human way (which is to say, losing control) – instead of all of this, I turned around. I pushed my way through the small crowd at the top of the long line to the top. I slowly made my way back down those steps I had just climbed. As I passed the people still waiting in line, some assumed I’d been denied a turn on the ride, maybe because I was too short or too young (though I was neither). They pitied me, while I felt tears sting my eyes, both from the foolishness I felt from turning around and passing all these many people who might guess at my fear, and also from my disappointment. I hadn’t been able to do it after all.

I think now of siting at the top of the slide, cool water sloshing around my bottom to help carry me down faster. I think of sailing around the bends, not seeing what’s ahead. I think of the splash into the pool below, not feeling the floor beneath me, water fill my nose and maybe pushing one my of suit straps off my shoulders. And then I think of coming up for air, and how I’d probably want to do it all over again.