Finding an edge category archive
For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to claim the identity of writer. To come out of the closet, so to say. To stop thinking my obsession with stories and words has to be private. I’ve written and written and squirreled away hundreds of pages over the years, everything from conversations to descriptions of the cities I’ve called home. I’ve read about other writers’ process, and listened to radio interviews, and read books with an eye to metaphors. But I’ve always been afraid to call myself a writer.
What does it take, to claim what we’ve always wanted, or known ourselves to be?
For years I ached to have a child. In 2012, I had my Basil at last, a squirming, sunshiny boy who’s now 10 months. I claimed the identity of mother instantly and completely when I pushed him out, worried over him in the NICU for 48 hours, brought him home to our snug apartment. But then I claimed it little by little as I got used to how others saw me, what it was like to go everywhere with him. I continue to claim it as I learn about naps, and cooking for a family, and what it means to parent with JJ, and how to be myself while caring for my child.
Claiming the identity of writer has never been instantaneous or complete. I heard Barbara Kingsolver once say in an interview that she didn’t imagine she could be a writer as a kid, because only dead, white men were writers. And look at her now. In Animal Dreams, her fourth book, she writes as part of a letter from one sister to another:
“[T]he very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof (p.299)”.
I figured out a long time ago that I hope to write. It’s time now, at the dawn of 2013, to live inside these writing hopes, occupy them as a place where sunshine can pour through windows, where flowers can bloom, where writing can become something that belongs to me.
A new year. A new beginning, on this blog. An essay|story|post here, every Tuesday.
Want to join me? What do you hope to begin, this year?
Something about this post from Christina Rosalie on her beautiful new site made me sit down and show up here today. I love blogs, read a handful religiously, another handful now and then. The beauty of this medium, blogging, is how it provides a way of following stories over time, and thus a way of connecting through writing, photography, passions. I love sitting down, checking in with people, seeing creativity at play, photos, projects, daily life as it shifts and changes. But it continues to be hard for me to put myself out there, to participate.
Since I had my sweet son five months ago, I have been overcome with this feeling of how we are so easily boxed in by how we see things every day, all the time. Like a view out your window that you see every day, your perspective on life can feel so permanent, static, unchanging. We forget that the view is not permanent. Then something big happens, like becoming a mom, sending shifts in identity roaring through us like a river of snowmelt down a mountain, bringing with them questions and new perspectives on everyday life.
It feels to me like the changes in identity that come with having a baby hold both transformative possibility, and the potential for stagnation and letting myself fade behind the demands of childrearing. So with this shift, the rumbles brought by motherhood, I’m asking myself: how can I live a life where I’m not hemmed in by the way things are, the things I’ve always done, the way I’ve always thought about things?
Showing up here is one way. Having the courage to be vulnerable, to write even when I don’t know what to say, to share pictures even when I’m not sure what they say.
See you soon.
The first week of the Unravelling course** had me photographing and paying attention to my feet. To where they go each day, and where they don’t. To how I feel about them. To how they anchor me in the world.
Mostly, the week had me circling around two questions: Where do your feet take you? Where don’t they (and why)?
The inertia of routine in daily life is something a lot of people talk about in their blogging. How hard it is to change routines. How good it feels to take a different bus line home, walk down a new street, spontaneously go the long way home and end up seeing a flock of geese rise from a pond along the way, or an especially glorious stand of daffodils in the height of spring bloom.
It seems like sometimes we choose where we go, or how we go. But more often we follow routines that take us along the same well-worn paths, where we may or may not really see the things we pass. This is true in everyday choices as well as the larger trajectory of life. Photographing and noticing my feet had me stopping to look at spots I usually would have just passed by. Noticing JJs and my feet, and the places we stand next to each other in day-to-day life. It had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge one afternoon to explore a park, Marin Headlands, that I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. And it had me sitting in a new cafe, by myself, writing and thinking about story ideas for a children’s book.
Mostly, the first week of the course had me noticing and reflecting on my choices. Both everyday ones, and larger life ones. I know, of all the many directions one could go with a photography assignment regarding feet (and Susannah gives MANY ideas), I choose a serious, contemplative one. My willow-sitting-by-the-river nature that seems to come along with having a hippy, earthy, tree name!
So I’ve started a list of things to do this summer that get me stepping outside my usual routines. What are you hoping to do this summer that perhaps takes you outside your routine?
**For reasons that make absolute sense to me, Susannah asks us to limit what we share of the course on our own blogs. So while I will write about my experience in the course here and there over the next 8 weeks, and share some of my photos, I’ll let you discover the details of the course itself by taking it if you’re interested. It’s only been a week, but already I highly recommend it!
Have I mentioned I make quilts? I do. It’s one of the sewing projects that I love and have a knack for thanks to being raised by a doll maker. I’ve been working on them again recently, allowing myself a glorious afternoon here and there to design and sew. I finished this pink one last week as a gift for a friend’s little girl.
So of course I thought about quilts when I read Christina’s post last week on where ideas come from. She talks about ideas being everywhere; that what makes them good is the execution, the acting upon them. She asks us, “Where do ideas come from? How do you act on them once they occur to you?” Her questions sparked too much thinking for a comment on her post, and thus, here I am, writing about her questions here.
“Where do you think ideas come from?” I asked JJ this weekend as we sat in our kitchen eating a lunch of re-heated soup and fresh bread. He thinks about ideas a lot in the context of software and technology startups, and we immediately started talking about the development of the computer mouse. In a recent New Yorker piece. Malcolm Gladwell talked about the development of ideas in 1970s Silicon Valley by tracking the case of the mouse and laser printer. He also suggests that ideas are plentiful, but argues that their development can be limited by the context where they arise and the vision of those who come up with them. Gladwell’s is an argument for how innovation can sometimes look like one person “stealing” another’s idea, but that it is really about taking an idea and applying it to a new problem, in a new context. Thus, he says, no one is “stealing” the idea from another, but rather “view[ing] the problem from a different perspective, and carv[ing] off a different piece of the puzzle”.
I agree with Christina and Gladwell, that ideas are plentiful. For me, ideas come from raw materials, when there’s a need, or I am listening. Fabrics can be raw materials, or photos. Threads of experience or questions become ideas as I tell a story to a little girl or boy. When I’m listening and acting with fabrics or words, I feel like I tap into a river of ideas. But the uncomfortable hesitation of risk is never far away, pressing me hot against the wall like bodies on a crowded bus in summer. What if it’s wrong? What if I ruin the materials? What if I can’t do it? As I sewed the quilt last week I felt it again and again. The frustration of a seam being uneven. Having to tear it out and do it again (and then again). Worrying about cutting into a new strip of fabric. Wondering whether the quilt would still be beautiful if the seams looked messy.
These are small worries, and small problems in the larger scheme of life. But working on this quilting project while thinking about these questions got me thinking more about this inherent risk in executing ideas.
Which brings me to my answer to the second question, on how we act on ideas. “What makes the idea good isn’t the idea, it’s the execution of it” Christina writes. Putting an idea into action is about the courage to go towards uncertainty, and possibly fail. I think she’s right. And that first step is often the hardest one. But in the days since I read this and have continued thinking about it, I had another thought: executing ideas is also about instinct. While I got frustrated again and again while making this quilt, I have a certain confidence with sewing, bred of years working next to my mother and learning from her work. I have an instinct for materials, how to mix colors and fabrics, and how to sew different kinds of seams. Just like those people working on the computer mouse in the 1970s had an instinct for how materials could link together and make something new.
Which raises a new question: How do we develop instincts for executing ideas? There is trial and error, and teaching ourselves. There is education from others, and apprenticeship of course. And there is imagination and willingness to try. But is there something more? Part of me thinks we have both what we learn in the world – what others teach us – and an innate orientation towards doing or learning certain things. Developing the instincts to execute ideas and make them great thus becomes about learning from others AND tapping into this innate drive – passion, ability, imagination – inside of us.
I am at a turning point in my life. Ready to take the years of training I have, and shift course. Which means developing new instincts. Listening for ideas, and executing on them, in different ways than I have in recent years. There are so many unknowns and scary wide open questions about where my career will go right now.
Which is why making quilts again and taking creative risks with fabric and scissors feels so good. After finishing the pink quilt, I went to the fabric store and started looking for inspiration for the next one. Over the last few days ideas have been percolating, leaping into color with some fabrics I found, then swirling all last Thursday as I walked around a flowering spring garden with a friend and her daughter.
Now, the fabrics sit in a pile under the front window, waiting for the first cut. Somehow, going through the exercise of openness to creative possibility in fabrics makes it easier to face the unknown questions about my career direction. Ideas flow when I make quilts, and executing them is risky, but less terrifying than other parts of life. So I’ll start there, and see where it takes me.
Another day. Another moment where I let myself sit down and lose myself in color and the waxy texture of the oil pastels. Another evening drawing until I have to stand, release the energy with feet wide apart in front of my desk. Another step toward opening to the possibilities of my life, letting myself imagine things can be different from what I’ve been so focused on.
Thank you for the kind wishes of courage. Stepping off a career track you’ve been on for a long time is one of life’s most difficult things, I think. All the parts of you that do well in it, enjoy it, find satisfaction battle with the parts of you that have doubts. For me, the academic track had become a narrow, rocky canyon that I was pushing myself through, despite questions. This + the personal challenges of trying unsuccessfully to start a family = depression and other health issues.
So I’m starting to re-imagine my life. Letting myself do things I haven’t done in years. Like draw sunflowers. Maybe it will become a series, called “Saying Yes to my Life”.
Have you made a big career change in your life? What was it like for you?
Hi there! I’m back. I’ve missed showing up here these past couple weeks. Have been taking fewer pictures. And the internal editor of my writing has gotten more and more ferocious until I couldn’t get a word past her into this space. It’s just piled up in my folders of writing that no one else reads. But thanks to Christina’s encouragement, and finding escape and connection in others’ blogs yesterday, I am back. Moving again.
My favorite yoga teacher often tells us, as we stand holding a pose, arms extended, balanced on one foot, ‘find your edge’, encouraging us to breath deep into the limit of what we think we can do, and to play with that edge. Feel the discomfort of being at the limit of comfort, and going a little further. Fiery muscles, deep breaths, balance. Playing with the edge of what my body can do.
Blogging is a creative edge for me too. Showing up to put down feelings, playing along the borders of what I have words for. I have this comfortable idea of how polished I like to be when I show others my work. And then I have the need to put things down no matter what, because writing is the only way I know how to make sense of the emotional edges of infertility and writing a dissertation that set the tempo of my life right now.
So I am here. Recommitted to playing with my blogging edge, taking the risk of continuing to write even when the feelings are dark and uncertain. Moving forward. Feeling the burn of embarrassment as my legs shake or I lose balance, and breathing words into the experience.
What are the edges in your life right now? What helps you play with the limit of what you think you can do?