Friday, June 11, 2010

Uncovering the child within

Yesterday, in talking with a friend about this quest to open the inner tomb, I realized that in my listmaking a particular theme had emerged; a reluctance to acknowledge my gifts or put myself forward.

And then this morning, in Soul Without Shame, Byron Brown described his thought processes around a moment when he paused in writing the book and began to worry he wouldn't finish it. The parallel between his self-doubt and my own was strong enough that I decided to spend some time looking at the problem, and almost immediately I was drawn to look at an incident that happened several years ago.

(Warning: this is a long story; you may just want to skip this post, or move to the last 3 paragraphs... But I need to walk through it to get to whatever truth lies beneath.)

I had taken a dear friend, a gifted artist, to Orcas Island with me for a weekend, and we spent our time wandering around the island with our cameras. She was particularly taken with the grasses around Cascade Lake and took lots of photos of them, and about a week after we returned home we went out for coffee and she showed me the images she'd gotten back from the photo shop.

The pictures were almost all of grasses at the water's edge; a bit like this one (taken on that same trip) but sometimes the grasses were thicker, or there were red blades mixed in with the green, or there was some unusual texture in the water. Being the amazing artist she is, she could see in the images all kinds of potential for paintings she wanted to do, but -- not being an artist but a photographer -- all I could see was clutter. I can photograph it, but I have a preference for simplicity -- which is one reason I love her paintings, which are magnificent and very simple -- and I can't achieve that with my camera.

In my family we have a phenomenon we call "crowd blindness" -- if we are in a crowd, we glaze over and can't seem to distinguish one person from another, and, specifically, we can't find EACH OTHER in a crowd, even if the other we're looking for is in plain sight. I felt that same helplessness looking at her pictures: I couldn't see the beauty she saw. And I made the mistake of telling her: "I just can't see it. I don't see what you see; I'd never have shot these pictures because I just can't see what you see."

My friend left for vacation shortly after this coffee, and life kept getting in the way after she returned so a couple of months elapsed before we met again for coffee. But when we did meet, on a sunny summer day, sitting outside our favorite coffee shop, I learned it hadn't been life that was getting in the way, but her fury. Apparently she had taken my inability to see as a criticism, and she spent our entire time snarling at me for having been so condescending about her images, even saying things like "I went to art school, and I'm a better photographer than you'll ever be."

I apologized repeatedly and tried to explain, but she couldn't take that in, and so the damage was done and the friendship never really recovered. Which was my fault, really -- not hers. Once some time had elapsed, she began reaching out to me again, but I never really felt safe with her after that; never felt I could be honest about myself, my likes and dislikes. And thinking about that incident this morning, I realize that unsafe feeling still colors my existence here, because it has echoes that resonate over a number of other incidents that date all the way back to my childhood, all of which have in common a single theme: when I speak out of what I believe to be my own wisdom, I either fall flat on my face or come under attack.

The child in me -- the one that longs for love, affection, respect, and recognition -- is repeatedly devastated by these incidents, and always surprised. And so her reluctance to fully engage and claim her strengths has grown over the years, and as I look at her now and coax her out (she's usually willing in the context of home and family) I see she's developed a permanent stoop from being curled in the fetal position so much of the time. She's convinced there's some piece of life and interaction that she just doesn't get, and that it's far safer to stay curled beneath her shell.

But I think I'm going to hold her hand and invite her to list all those incidents -- and, trust me, they are numerous (don't worry; we will not recount them all for you) -- to see if, together, we can get to the bottom of this problem and find a way for her to rediscover some of her courage.

And now I must go and say goodbye to the daughter who is leaving for the summer -- to work at a camp on Orcas Island. Perhaps later I'll go up and visit her, and revisit the lake where these photos were taken, to find a moment of healing...


Maureen said...

I can't help but wonder, especially given the unkind remark about art school, if your friend reacted so strongly because, perhaps unconsciously or maybe not, she felt about herself as you did about yourself.

I wish we all could reach a place where we don't find ourselves having to compare ourselves to others to accept that what we do counts and matters and is good or better than good in and of itself. I'm still working on that. I read poems that get published in the literary mags and wonder... and then myself to forgive myself the comparison and just get back to writing.

Hugs of support.

(P.S. My "Where Laughing Gulls Hover" was accepted at Poets for Living Waters. It went up online this morning. I felt good about that.)

Diane Walker said...

Congratulations, Maureen; that's awesome! -- and those of you who want to read her poem will find it here:

Diane Walker said...

...and I strongly suspect you're right: my mistake was in assuming she was as in awe of her artistry -- and as convinced of its value -- as I was.

Kimberly Mason said...

I know a little girl who would LOVE to be besties with your little girl...they'd have a lot in common.

The visual imagery of the 3rd to the last paragraph was powerful to experience, btw....and the "permanent stoop from being curled in the fetal position" really hit my gut.