April 30, 2013

Reconnecting with Myself

"We need to reconnect with those really primal parts of ourselves… We need to reconnect with who we really are.” – Dan Phillips (Phoenix Commotion) from his TED Talk.

Lately I feel the urge to admit that I'm a weird person disguised as a normal person.

I come from a long line of weird people -- from both sides of my family.  My paternal grandmother wore Hawaiian muu muus and went barefoot in public.  Always.  My maternal grandfather lined his driveway with fake gargoylesque monsters made of twisted stumps and found-objects like bones and rocks.  I grew up thinking this was normal.  Well, in my world it WAS normal.

I recently watched a TED Talk by Dan Phillips who makes houses out of repurposed material, stuff that would normally go in the trash or to the landfill.  The houses are amazing.  Well, amazing if you like things that are out of the ordinary.  While his talk was very focused on worldwide waste, he touched a bit on how we as humans like to fit things into categories, ourselves included.  And it made me think again, more, about how the reality of me is that I'm a weird person who blends in really well with normal people.

For quite some time I thought it served me well. But lately I've been thinking I've done a great job of kidding myself.  Being normal is a habit.  It's not an onerous task -- about the same as getting dressed before leaving the house or using your napkin when you eat instead of wiping your hands on your clothes.  A habit borne of the quest for ease, like the film on a fish that makes it glide easily through the water.

A few years ago I was driving down Main Street of my little town, past a crummy, ramshackle building. The facade had peeled off and all that was left were remnants of the black cement that had held it together since, probably the 40's.  I called the owner of the building and without any formal niceties I launched in.

"Jack. I just drove by your place and had a vision -- you need to mosaic the front of that building.  It would be amazing."

"I need to what?"

"Mosaic the building. You know. Broken tile. In some kind of beautifully aesthetic configuration.  Art!"

"Okay. Yeah. Right."

About a year later, circumstances would arrange themselves such that my mother became owner of the building. She wanted to do something interesting to it.  I did a watercolor sketch of the vision I had that day.  And under a cruel summer sun in over 100 degree weather we worked at it, for weeks, until we got this:

And some details (click to biggify...)

I sit in front of the building sometimes and just look at it. Because it's pretty and I'm proud of it, sure. But these days more because it's a metaphor. It's a glimpse of naked flesh through a door left ajar.  It's the summer day you wore the sleeveless shirt, for once, not caring if your flabby arms were showing.  It's me giving myself permission to not care what people might say because it's the loudest building in town, that it's not orderly.

In fact, I went so far to go on a guerrilla artist mission and paint the neighbor's alley door. Bright, electric blue with a dripping faucet.  (It's the municipal water department. Humor!)  While I was back there a truck passed through the alley, the occupants staring at me as I stood in an artistic fugue covered in blue and white paint. I waved my big paintbrush at them as if it was a thing I did every day and that I had every right to be there instead of possibly violating a small handful of state and local laws.

And it was good.

And then I fell asleep again for a while and went back to being normal.

I admire self-restraint, yet I wonder lately what good it is.  Within the boundaries of the law and the proper function of society, what good is it?  What do we achieve when we hesitate to speak our minds, to laugh out loud in a quiet museum, to apologize for our desires? How much do we miss by not standing in the rain until we are soaked through? Does it matter in the big picture that anyone might see our bra under our wet shirt or that our hair sticks to our face?

I have a day job that requires me to be quite meticulous, confine myself to a lot of legal rules and codes of professionalism.  I have clients whose needs I must meet.  I am basically on call every day, including weekends and nights.  I am a mother, too.  My life is not my own -- not really.  In my office I don't wear my shoes because I don't like to wear shoes.  Sometimes I forget I don't have shoes on and a client or customer will come in and notice and remark on it.  I used to get embarrassed and apologize.

A couple of months ago I stopped apologizing.  Now I say, "I love not wearing shoes."  One part of me chastises the other part of me for being unprofessional.  That girl scolds me and purports that such behavior could be bad for business.

And I feel a little bit bad in case she is right.  But then I think... I'm in my 40's now and this is the only life I get. I'm not going to spend what time I have left apologizing for being authentic.

I hope you don't either.

April 6, 2013

Small Town

"Miss Wendy! Miss Wendy! Miss Wendy!"

Finally, I hear my name sink into me and look up to see who is calling.  Betsy, with her hair chopped off.  I had forgotten that.  She waved, delighted to see me, a grown-up she loves, at her school program.

"I still love your new 'do, Betsy." She has a cousin with cancer.  Now the other half of her hair is on its way to Florida to be made into a wig. It was her idea.

My eyes scan the room. Children everywhere, a happy din, hubbub, excitement.  It's award day.  Everyone is here.

For some reason I think of tiny feet and how I knew a lot of these feet back when they belonged to the babies they used to be.  I live in a small town and this is what we do -- live together, die together. We know each other.

I know the story of Betsy's hair, the hair she had all her life up to this point.  Two rows behind her I know the little boy who is in remission from his brain tumor. The town raised funds, for years, to help support the family through his medical care.  Three seats down I know the little boy whose mother used to do meth but doesn't anymore. She got arrested for shoplifting birthday decorations for her son's party because she couldn't afford them. Now she's going to school full time because her husband has a job that is good enough to support the whole family.

Two days ago I stood on the sidewalk and heard a man yell out the door of his shop at two girls walking down the street. "DOES YER DADDY KNOW YER WEARING THAT?"  The girls with their midriffs showing scurried down the street as if he might chase after them. He huffed at me and said, "I'll bet you Bobby Dean does NOT know." He turned and went back into his store. Probably to call Bobby Dean.

As my mother was called when I was 15 and skipped study hall to walk to the corner store for a roll of SweetTarts.

As I was told when my son went to the store and loaded up on double-shot espresso drinks. "Does your mother know you're buying those," the checkout lady asked.  My son, who already knows how it works in a small town replied, "I'm sure she will pretty soon..."

Twenty minutes.  That's how soon.

I look at the old pictures in my school yearbook.  My fingers pass over the faces of the 70 people I graduated with and I name how they turned out.  Dentist.  Bank teller. Farmer. Insurance Salesman.  Drug Addict.  Housewife. Travel Agent. Store Owner.  Cook.  Politician.

On this day I sit and think of the tiny feet in this room and how they will grow into their future lives and how I will know them and see the string of time from when they were born until they day they get their first job, have their first child, get arrested, win an election, buy a new business, die too young from cancer, grieve when they lose a child.

We will celebrate and grieve with them.   We will champion them and judge them despite the fact that most of us have memorized the first few verses of Matthew chapter 7 that cautions us not to do just that.

We have done this since our town was born and will continue to do so until the population creeps up to a size where we begin to realize we don't know the names of our neighbors or know the people who are written about in the weekly newspaper.

And we will lament what we have lost -- this sense of belonging, for better or for worse. We will cease to be how we are connected (Miz Maisie's youngest girl who has the hair salon) and become our house number or a description of what we are wearing.

We will be one in seven billion people.