Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Person I Wanted To Be

You know when you're little and everybody says hey, what do you want to be when you grow up? and you've been just waiting with that answer, wiggling in excitement to shout it out? Something like "FIREMAN!" or "VETERINARIAN!" or "CHIPPENDALES DANCER!"
Me, I never had that. At some point I realized that not having an answer brought about adults who were of the opinion that you absolute HAD to have an answer to it and would grill you with other questions to help you figure out what you wanted to do right there on the spot. At 5 you were absolutely bound by unspoken adult laws to decide on a career path for the comfort of the person asking you about it. It makes me wish I knew the phrase "Body Fluids Analyst" for those times.
I would shrug sometimes and get shy when the question was pursued further. Eventually when I wasn't playing they would say something like "you like animals, I bet you'd make a really good vet!" and I would nod because, hey, I was 5 and that path was open to me. It was entirely possible. Eventually I settled on telling people "Marine Biologist" because I liked dolphins, because there were dolphin posters alllll over my damned room, and by that time I'd accidentally let it out of the bag that I was clever. I was expected to want to be something clever and scientific. So for a while, that worked.
But you and I both know that what we tell people we want to be and deep down what we really wanted to be are two different and philosophically disparate things.
What I really wanted to do was to travel, adventure,and see things around the world. I wanted to be a nice person and help strangers. I wanted to tell stories for people to enjoy and I wanted to be a sort of non-violent sea going pirate, or perhaps a gypsy. But that doesn't pay college loans and your parents don't get to see you much when you do that, so when I made my first few rumblings along those lines I got the humoring laugh with a comment about my great imagination.
Right. So you don't tell your parents you really want to be a rock star or a model. Or a professional gypsy. Or, actually as I found out later, DO NOT TELL THEM YOU WANT TO BE AN ARTIST OR A WRITER!!! Because that gets equal "huh" billing, along with talks about how you could fit such things in around your "real" job.

So here it is, years later, and we are walking harmlessly through the most inoffensive of cities, Portland, Maine. We are on our way to see some of the few sights that we managed to glean from the narrow helpings on the internet. And as we are headed there I am slowly realizing a few things - that I am traveling like a gypsy... not a lot, sometimes not far, but we do travel. We do see new things and seek out new experiences. We watch people, in fact we were watching people as we walked to get a "feel" for the east coasterly Portlandians. We are visiting bookstores and looking through used books. I am personally venturing in to sections usually not frequented by others - birding, gardening, identifying mushrooms that are yummy vs. those that will Keel You Dead. That sort of thing. And I realize that this was all what I'd pictured myself doing as a younger girl... taking photographs, "feeling" a place instead of visiting it, enjoying what we came across... it was very strange.
Then came the greatest confirmation of this whole thing; we stepped in to a comic book store on Congress Avenue. The man behind the counter who appears to be the owner greets us... and no matter what we pick up, what we say to one another under our breath, he is immediately there with a comment, talking about what we were holding, giving us additional info on the artist or writer or what have you.... and I found, to my surprise, that I was able to talk with him on just about everything he brought up.
It is my personal idiom to be a half-hearted fanatic of things. I have always loved Edward Abbey's thoughts on the matter - "One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure." And as such I have always striven to know about things, to learn further, but not to be consumed by the knowledge. Not to be consumed by the need to "keep up" or be seen as an expert on anything. It has always served me well in the saving of time, money and anger. For this reason if anyone asks me how well I know something I say "not too much". I know enough to listen to others and tell if they're full of shit, and this has been enough.
But suddenly, whereas I had been someone who "read comics sometimes", it now shifted to someone who can talk about it with somebody else, and actually have a decent conversation. I was, to some extent and within the particular genres I stuck to... educated. Geeky, even. I was actually proud of myself and realized that this, this geeky thing, this little tab on the edge of mainstream culture, was something I was good at. It was something I had wanted to be good at, as with video games and computers and photography and any other number of things.
Expanding my view, I realized that while I was no expert, I was beyond hobbyist in a great many areas. Could I give a talk on these things? Nope. But I could have an educated conversation. I knew my little geeky corner of the world. My geeky, artsy, gypsy-esque corner of the world, as we spent time taking pictures of Portland.
The person that I thought I would be shelving in order to have a white collar job that paid bills and let me watch cable TV refused to stay put and has been deviously seeping in to my every day mindset for the past 15 years. She was who I was supposed to be, and by slow aeons she made her way in to direct my research, my interests and my spending dollars.
I'm exactly who I thought I might be, and who I wanted to be. The world didn't get to tell me how to be realistic (and screw them anyway, yeah?). I'm proud of what I've learned and become... and it just seems poetic and fitting that this realization should strike me while talking about Italian erotic manga in the middle of a city in the Great North. Such has my life been.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Epiphany You Can't Have

Something circular about my life was completed on Friday, but if I had to tell you what exactly it was that I finished I couldn't truly hold forth. There was simply a feeling of being done with something, and that I could move on.
Where it occurred was unexpected. We were headed home from Maine, the tail end of our trip to celebrate our first anniversary together still ahead of us. Thoreau's Walden Pond was on the way, and we wanted to stop and see what inspired him so much... so we pulled in, talked to the most disinterested woman in the world to get our parking pass, and headed forth.
The pond itself seems a bit of a misnomer. It would be Walden Lake were I in charge of mapping it. Perhaps some limitation of depth or width I'm unaware of stuck it within the "pond" category. But to me if you look out across a body of water and the other side of it is obscured by the mid-day haze... it's a lake.
Semantics aside, it was beautiful. The leaves were only just starting to change, so the spurts of color were rare and far between. The pines, birches and maples were no less beautiful in the bright sunlight, though, and the sounds of children playing on the makeshift beach (screaming THERE'S A SHARK IN THE WATER! followed by shrieks and splashing that signaled the hasty exit of the whole group) gave the air of familiarity to the place. It was most definitely a place embraced by the people of Concord, and from all the trail work it was evident that it was well loved and protected.
As we walked, I looked around and wondered aloud to my husband how many people came to this place hoping for their own epiphany like Thoreau had, and how many went away disappointed because it was water and trees like so many other places in parks. My husband paused a moment, then said that the people who came here didn't come for their own epiphanies. They were coming to have Thoreau's... and they would not have it, because they were not Thoreau. But perhaps they would understand better why these thoughts arose.
My husband is a wise man... I had to agree. If you were not there to treat this place as a park, you were there on some eco-pilgrimage trying to become the Eye Observing Itself in nature.
I looked around me. I looked up. I looked down. I looked at the details, and zoomed out to the big picture. It was water. And earth. And trees. And it was not the location at all, but the man that was capable of the thoughts brought about by this location. One could just as equally unlock the mysteries of the universe seated next to a dumpster as out here. I suppose I knew this, but the lack of anything hushed or sacred about the place did tip something over in my heart to run out through my feet. Disappointment, I suppose? Expectations are a bitch when they're not met.
It was the gift of Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman that originally started me on my journey as eco-warrior, that drove me to take up classes in Seattle and have a turbulent second and partial third decade of my life. I still have the books saved from that long ago Christmas, hardback editions with beautiful paper covers that held bold black and white images of the writers, seemingly serene in front of the lens. When I found these men quoted in Buddhist compilations the part of me that is still a teenager wiggled in joy and read avidly on, seeking the connection between those first words that drove me to seek and my path now.
It smelled like a lake. I couldn't get over that it SMELLED like a lake. Like the Vatican should be discovered to have a mild scent of urine about it. And then I laughed at myself for thinking that any body of water wouldn't smell like any other body of water I'd hiked around.
So there it was. The meaning is in the man. You bring with you whatever a place is going to be for you. Which I suppose I knew in the back of my mind from my Buddhist studies, but the clearness of it was like a smack to the forehead. Thoreau could come here and add his thoughts to the Transcendental movement because he was Thoreau, thinking his thoughts, basing it on his knowledge.
We stood in front of the replica of Thoreau's cottage and the statue out front in bronze that was chained to a nearby tree for some reason (these small details make my day) and I felt something close in my mind. As if the child that I was, the one that craved to be one with the nature around me, that wanted the experience of those early fathers of environmentalism, could finally understand how and why these things occurred. More importantly, why people love what they love and defend it ferociously. I walked away from the cabin somewhat quieter, feeling relieved for reasons I didn't understand yet. My husband held my hand, sensing as he does in his intuitive way that something had shifted in my skull, and I tried to tell him what was going on in my head but the words failed me. So much of my life is sensation, movement and pictures that conveying it poses problems. It was easiest just to tell him I was starting to understand why people love people, places, things... something that had always eluded me and puzzled me.
It's because you bring it with you to love something, and when you are confronted with it your heart leaps out to meet it, happy to have finally recognized it.
Walden Pond is water. It is very loved water, and a beautiful place. I took my epiphanies -that were not epiphanies at all but the resurfacing of things I had known for a while but been unable to practicably apply- brought about by staring at a reconstruction of a building that hadn't existed for decades, and got in the car and drove on towards home.