In high school I was told to choose. And each of the tellers told me to chose the thing that was theirs:
Sister Mary Judith said to choose writing
Sister Mary Thomas said to choose music
Sister Mary Dominica said to choose fine art
Sister Josephine said to choose fashion design
You MUST choose this one, each said. This is your gift, each said.
I said no. Was it the best answer? I guess I’ll never know, but I knew in my gut it’s the only answer I could give.
I saw each as one of my children. How do I choose one, and leave the others, orphaned?
How do I nurture one, and leave the others fallow? It was the craziest idea I’d ever heard. But I was just a kid, what did I know? These were brides of Christ telling me to do this. But I couldn’t.
First of all, as I now know, what the creative well is filled with is beyond my control. It is a central space whose energy flows through me. I cannot dictate to the well how it is to express itself. I can only say “yes” to whatever shows up.
I am not the boss of it. I am the steward; the guardian. It is up to me to facilitate, not to dictate.
In my adult life, there are creative threads that have expanded; writing grew to — not only prose or poetry, but a career in songwriting. Design grew to — not just fashion design — but a career in interior design. Music grew to a career as a vocalist. I guess you could say my ‘children’ had ‘children’ of their own.
I sometimes wonder if this is just me, not wanting to “settle down” with something that could organize my life in a way that some would call “adult.” But when that thought comes to mind, the counter argument is always there to ask me, which of your creative ‘children’ would you have abandoned in favor of others?
The answer is, I cannot choose. I have not chosen. They choose me. Even now, in my dotage, I do not regret saying “YES” to all of them.
I’m a little teary today. Not constantly, but in those spaces between big thoughts it creeps in, and I catch my breath. Really, it’s the craziest thing. It started with David Bowie. And Jane Austen.
I’m of the generation that rode Bowie’s outrageous musical wave with him. I was on the sidelines, having babies; but I watched, and listened. And dreamed.
The Viet Nam war was raging, girls were burning bras, and in California, hippies were putting daisies in the barrels of guns.
In my little world, I imagined what that life would be like. If I could make the music I wanted to make. If I could chop my hair, turn it pink, or orange, or blue. If I could climb out of my responsible skin, and into the skin of a free spirit. Jump off the limb, way up high, believe I could fly.
And as an avid reader of Jane Austen books, I also imagined going back to those days, of handiwork under the shade tree; of a simpler life. Of Mr. Darcy.
But I was a young mother; my beautiful babies needed feeding, wash had to be done … all the things that go into keeping a life on track. Still, while hanging diapers on the line, or cooking dinner, or folding clothes, singing lullabyes, my mind went on amazing journeys … back in time, or somewhere future. It still does.
Sometimes I’m a literary writer, sitting on the sandy beach with her books and pens. The south of France; or Italy, in a small medieval castle by the sea. I can see that so clearly, it’s like I’m really there.
Other days I feel the need to trim the oil lamps and pull out my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine.
My fantasy world also embraces the anticipation of relationship.
I remember as a young girl of eight going to see War and Peace. We came home and for days I wouldn’t look in the mirror; I didn’t want to break the spell that I truly was Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostova, pursued by the handsome Prince Andrei Bolkonsky.
Years passed, and I kept growing up, as girls do. But I continued to live my fantasies while setting the table or ironing the pillowcases. From the Philco radio, Frankie Lane sang “They Called the Wind Mariah.” It may have looked like I was just pressing hard creases on cloth table napkins, but I knew I was riding a wild Mustang across the prairie, the wind in my hair.
That was long ago. My life has seen heartbreak, death, love, more heartbreak. And yet. Yet I still dream; I still believe.
In spite of what I’ve walked through, I know my Alan Rickman’s Colonel Brandon is waiting for me. But the truth is, I possess the spunk and mettle of Elizabeth Bennett.
So perhaps it will be Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy who calls for me, after all.
My altar is secret. I don’t really even have one yet, but I’m getting ready.The things I have for it are tucked away in a box. It’s a shoebox. From Renberg’s. Christmas, 1959. My father’s slippers came in it. If I lower my nose to the box, I can still smell the leather from those slippers.
The box is in the bottom drawer with some other stuff—so that no one can tell it’s something special.
A picture of Susan Van Wyck is in there. Susan Van Wyck’s been on the cover of Seventeen magazine about twenty times. Some people tell me I look like Susan Van Wyck. But she’s so beautiful, it makes me shy to think about it; I can’t believe it. But I keep that picture to remind me.
Then there’s my scapular. I got it in first grade when I made my First Holy Communion. It’s faded and the silk straps are twisted, but it reminds me of the Holy Sacrament. I like to remember when I was seven, and believed everything they told me, without question. Sometimes I sleep with it on, because I need those feelings I had back then. Innocent. Faithful.
There’s a little rock from the time we went to Roman Nose State Park. It was the summer before first grade, and the only vacation we ever took. This stone makes me think of highways, and swimming pools, and places far away.
The four leaf clover is from my boyfriend. Rick gave it to me –or should I say he walked down the aisle at school and dropped it on my desk. That’s how I knew he was my boyfriend. We haven’t talked to each other or anything, but sometimes you just know.
The scrap of brown eyelet material is from Nanny. She taught me how to sew, starting when I was five. When I was ten, She taught me to use the treadle machine on her patio. We made doll clothes all summer that year. Nanny always said, “You can do anything you want to do. Just come up with an idea, then think backwards and you’ll know how to get there.” This piece of fabric reminds me that I can do anything.
The last thing in here is a crystal heart. Daddy gave it to me before the 8th grade dance. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, and it makes my own heart squeeze when I look at it. When Daddy’s having a bad night and I can hear him through my door, I take the crystal heart out and put it under my pillow. It helps me remember who he really is.
born new and tender
hope and eagerness
toward its mother
upon her breast.
hearts journey onward
Knowing not of
what’s in store
Driven only by
What is it they’re
put here for.
In a world of
At the port of
You’ll find hearts
broken in pieces
Still not knowing
what it means.
Every dream has faced
Every cynic’s scoffed
Can be nothing
Lately I’ve been wondering how much of me is left. I mean, when I think back, it seems like there have been at least a couple of incarnations in this one lifetime. I was someone’s kid in the first lifetime, and a sister. In the second lifetime I was someone’s wife, and mother. How much of me did that use up? By the time I became a wife, did I remember who that girl was? Was I still that person? Today I’m someone’s mother, someone’s mother in law, and someone’s grandmother. What about that kid? Is she still here? Does she know how old we are? Is she observing the relationship challenges, the unreached horizons that float in the mist, just ahead of wherever it is I am? Or is she the one driving me forward?
It’s funny. These days there’s a familiar authenticity inside my skin; is this what she felt then? Or is that dementia? Is that old age? I don’t know. But I can tell you this: I feel more on purpose than I’ve felt since I was five. Since I was the kid on that swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion, crying because I couldn’t write a song like the ones on the radio. I don’t cry about that now. Today I’m grown up, and I write songs for a living. Does she know?
When I work on the various projects that keep my passions fired, I feel her here. She sits across the table, smiling at me, her chin resting on one dimpled hand.
I also feel her tears. When my Daddy — OUR Daddy — died earlier this year, she is the one who cried into my pillow. She’s also the one who took my sister’s face in her hands at the funeral home and told her everything was okay. In many ways I felt like I was watching her do that. I was the observer. Looking back at that weekend, I realize the girl of me led us through it with her broken heart wide open, loving everybody as big as she could.
Since then, she and I have hit a rough patch. One where healing and grief keep getting locked in hand to hand combat. It leaves me bone weary, and she’s trying to make sense of it all.
When I lie down and rest my head in the dark, I feel her there. She keeps watch through the night. Sometimes in that space between awake and asleep, I hear her whisper, “Daddy always believed in us.” The adult of we never thought so. The girl of we always knew.
There are those who would call me daft for seeing us as two separate people. Shrinks might tell me to “integrate.” I reject that clinical diagnosis. The adult mind lives on the surface where life appears steady, things are kept in tidy lines, and all rules apply. But the child mind is boundless; it explores below the surface. There are times I need to get hopelessly lost in her world of unseen wonder, secret caverns, mighty whirlwinds, and fragments of dreams unlived. This is where the thrill of excitement rides in on a sunbeam, where fragile hearts dive deep, shatter and heal, only to dive deep again.
Not breaking through the surface with her would pose a far greater risk to my Spirit. I cannot bear the thought of skimming the top, and never living the we of me at all.
If Daddy can see us, we know he’s proud.