Site moved to 37days.com/2006/09/become_you.html, redirecting in 2 seconds!

« An invitation to join us... | Main | Rest your weary head »

19 September 2006

Become you

”As life goes on it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day. This is sometimes disconcerting for those around you, but a great relief to the person concerned.”  -Agatha Christie

Tree_blown_by_windIt was a green piece of construction paper with three orange islands pasted on it, creating distinct sections on the page. I’d say the whole page was probably 17 inches long. Maybe, in fact, it was an 11 by 17 inch piece of paper. What a concept. If I had ever studied the metric system in school, I could provide that data, but I didn’t, so let’s move on rather than devolve into a full-blown reproach of the American educational system.

I wasn’t thinking as I tore the paper—or was I? So much of the process was unconscious, and it was only when I opened my mouth the next morning to speak to the art I had created that the truth came clear.

Tree_blown_by_wind5The collage I put in front of the group last weekend was a study in minimalism. Others had covered their construction paper with a multitude of beautiful images; mine held one image (I couldn’t find a photo of Mr Depp), a photograph of my family, and several words. There was a lot of blank space showing through. What can I say? I’m in a minimalist kind of space at the moment.

The art project was part of a recent weekend meeting in Seattle, a gathering of wonderful, smart, fun people I’ve worked with over the past few years to deliver diversity training to a major U.S. corporation. Usually, we are flying across the country, passing each other in the air or emailing about schedule changes; this weekend was an opportunity for us to gather in one room again.

On Friday night, the planning committee asked us to create a collage representing our lives, and particularly what is new for us in the two years since we last met as a group. We gathered at a reception on the patio, scissors and glue stick in hand, tearing magazines apart and offering images to one another—“this one reminds me of you!” leaving the recipient to wonder why and how—before we attacked the dinner buffet with the same energy and sense of purpose.

Tree_blown_by_wind3Over the weekend, we re-introduced ourselves using our collages. People told of losses in their lives, challenges, new loves (one every decade!), searches for love (or at the very least for a good woman who can do flips!), work-related successes, priorities, the life. As I started to talk, I found myself saying something that had never occurred to me until that very moment, not even the night before when I had cut out the photograph of a tree blown almost over in half from the force of a wind and pasted it to my construction paper life.

“This,” I said, pointing to the tree, “is my life before 2005.”

I surprised even myself when I said those words. But, having said them, and with 20 sets of eyes looking at me, expectantly, I felt compelled to continue. And so I did.

As e.e. cummings once wrote, “it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”   After bowing to the wind, being blown into one thing or another—even if they were successful and rewarding—with the writing of 37days and the start of my Circle Project work in 2005, I think I began to right myself, stick my roots deeper into earth, resist the wind, tell my own story, not the one I felt I should tell, not the books others wanted me to write, but my very own.

Tree_blown_by_wind2I got an email recently from a woman I didn’t yet know named Eliza Cavanaugh—she said it was okay to use her name if I wrote about our correspondence. After she read this post, she chided me, albeit gently, for being insecure about my poofy hair, cat-scratched couch, and child-bearing hips when my high school buddies came for a visit. “I hope you not only take to heart your own insight about not needing to make excuses, but that you can actually find a way to gain perspective on your fabulous worldly expression to the extent that you might even become, oh, pleased as punch, or for heaven’s sake, how about comfortable?”

In part, I responded that in fact, I’m often pleased as punch. I vowed to write more about being pleased as punch—and Eliza and I embarked on a correspondence, her unique voice showing through: “even before you responded, it occurred to me that it might not be particularly helpful to essentially chastise someone, however admiringly or supportively, for feeling what they feel and writing about it.” I didn’t feel chastised, but engaged. “I do have a remarkable life,” I wrote, “and I do feel insecure. Not always, sometimes not at all, but sometimes. I think that is important for my daughters to know—that it’s okay to doubt, if doubt brings questions that can provide clarity about what really matters.”

Treewind2My response to Eliza, in fact, delivered the tree, though I didn’t know it at the time: “For much of my life, if I’m honest with myself, I have play-acted through my professional life—knowing that it wasn’t what I truly needed to be doing, sometimes even feeling like I was outside of myself watching it. I was successful by anyone’s measure, except by my own; I was looking at books I had written as if they were not mine. And now, ironically, I am the most successful by my own internal measure, and the least successful by anyone else’s. It is a good lesson for me, to be sitting at both the top and bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy at the very same time, saying no to financial gain that is at the cost of the Self I have found. There is no other time for me to write but now.”

TreewindA few years ago, I attended a class at Penland School of Crafts. Penland is a magical place for me—I wear my Birkenstocks proudly and throw my Kiehl blackberry lip gloss to the wind. Studios are open 24-hours-a-day and you are surrounded by artists making, not surprisingly, art. That year, I was enrolled in a two-week class, a plan marred only by the need to leave for 2 days to don my Power Suit, eyeliner, and briefcase to fly to Dallas and conduct a workshop for the CEO of a big financial institution and his direct reports.

When the wind blows, sand often flies.

It felt like grit in my eyes, the very prospect of leaving this magical place for a power suit gathering of dueling Blackberrys. I sat at dinner the night before leaving, bemoaning my fate, the injustice of it all, yada, yada, yada. The man I was sitting with was someone I had met the day before, a sculptor taking a blacksmithing course. He listened quietly to my tale of woe, no doubt wishing he had sought out the company of a weaver or a woodworker rather than a whiner. “I feel sometimes like I am speaking, but someone has actually got their hand in my back making my mouth move, like a puppet, I said.” With that, he sat bolt upright. “I’ll be right back,” he said. “Don’t move.”

I sat still for 10 minutes. He returned with a postcard. “This is from my last show,” he said. “I think you’ll like the piece on the front of the postcard.”

I looked down. On that card was a sculpture he had done of a man in a business suit, a torso. The head was made of recycled farm implements. On the back of the postcard was a view of the back of the torso, in which there was a small door. When opened, there was a crank that you could turn. And when you turned the crank, the mouth moved. A metaphorical architecture made visible in heavy iron, indeed.

Sri_lanka_palmWhen I lived in Sri Lanka in 1976, I was mesmerized by the massive palm trees along the coast, insanely tall and bent over almost double from the force of a wind over time. We are moving in a direction, it occurs to me, even when we feel like we are not. Perhaps it isn’t apparent today, or tomorrow, or next Thursday, but it will be—the photograph we show the world will clearly delineate what direction that wind was coming from over all those years we lived, won’t it?

“When I worked as a cashier in a natural foods market years ago,” Eliza wrote back, “a supervisor told me that a friend of hers always wanted to go through my line, to check out what I was wearing. ‘She thinks you’re so cool!’ she said. ‘Yeah,’ I replied, ‘I wish I were me.’”

That’s exactly it, I wrote to Eliza. I wish I were me. Somedays I’m more me than others.

Francois Duc de La Rochefoucauld once said, “We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.” The thing about those trees blown by the wind is that pretty soon, they stay that way. It’s incremental, but cumulative. It’s gradual, but lasting. Intention and direction, intention and direction.

As Agatha Christie said (my thanks to Jill for helping me relocate my new favorite quote), “it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day. This is sometimes disconcerting for those around you, but a great relief to the person concerned.

Know your mask, then take it off. Perhaps it will be disconcerting to those around you to see the real you—they’ll live or they won’t, but you will.

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

TreeAs Oscar Wilde wrote in De Profundis (1905), “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

Become you, that You not shaped by outside forces, but the one standing up straight, a perfect balance of wind and still, of solid and sway. I wonder, what wind is blowing you? Is it so gradual that you don’t even notice the bend?

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451596669e200d834756d0c69e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Become you:

» Bitacle Blog Search Archive - Become you from bitacle.org
[...] ”As life goes on it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day. [...] [Read More]

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Wow. Just wow. I have nothing coherent to say, except that this is one that I'll be returning to again and again.

I hope I can use this one to change my life.

Patti,
Taking off the mask is a frightening prospect. I think I might sacrifice the acceptance of me by those around me. Imagine what will become of the bent tree if a crane were to straighten it.......

I do find a sense of truth in Christe's quote; “it becomes tiring to keep up the character you invented for yourself, and so you relapse into individuality and become more like yourself every day. This is sometimes disconcerting for those around you, but a great relief to the person concerned.”
I'm going to reflect on it awhile ;-)

I'm going to sound like a broken record... HOW, I wonder, is it that I always find JUST WHAT I NEED when I end up here. How can the cosmic timing be so impeccable?! ;) I've been feeling so fractured and fractious and fraudulent lately...feeling the heavy burden of my 'real' life being fake...and wondering how my virtual life can feel more real than my in-the-flesh one. What was that old game show?..."To Tell the Truth"? I'm the 'real' contestant...AND the imposters. It's exhausting! :) Thanks for another fabulous post...and I adore the quote.

As far as I know, the tiny acorn doesn't become a pine tree by hanging out with them. It becomes what it is: an oak, and by all appearances, proud of it. We are all becoming what we are, each with our own wisdom.

How did you know that this was just what I needed to read today?

I agree with all of what you said. Something came up at work this week. Someone called me a poser and a fake because I wear a bow tie. The insult came because apparently those who wear bow ties in educational institutions are just trying to impress or look intelligent. My reply to the offender was: "I dress the part because I was born to play the role." I certainly didn't invent a self, it just happened and I accepted it. As for what's inside of me, well, I feel the same... I just became me this morning when I woke up... and it happens every day.

Another wonderful writing Patti.

I wonder how the wave lengths seem to manage to come together amongst various writers on a topic. The draft copy you worked on might have co-mingled (in a good way) with at least a couple of others this week. I heard ze frank write that he needed to be happy this week. I wrote yesterday: http://steves2cents.blogspot.com/2006/09/red-sky-at-morning.html as a continuation of thought that I posted at Talking Story on Monday.

Even the memorable quote from PodCamp comes back here: Be yourself, the others are taken.

So true, so true. If we just accepted what we are and lived within that to our fullness, the word might be a saner place.

patti, this is great. those quotes are ALL just fabulous. i'm honored to have played a part in your inspiration! i drink deeply from the well here every week, and this must be a case of (to paraphrase the aphorism) "we blab best about what we most need to shut up and hear," because even though this post was partly inspired by our correspondence, i found it just as bracing as the rest.

i want to add that when i said "i wish i were me" that day, it expressed not only that sense of being somehow separate from myself (your hand puppet metaphor is terrific), but also that i could stand to remember that i AM just as cool as i look - the inside is even better - and i could let myself know that rather than fretting about how i was coming across to the extent that even a compliment as nice as that one could barely squeeze past the stern sentry of my tortured self-image. it was the image that was the problem, not the self!

Hi Patti,
I agree with the others who have commented about synchronicity of thinking. I am trying to become me - the real me - but the obstacles in my path seem insurmountable sometimes.

I wasn't surprised at your response to your collage. Doing something like creating that collage takes you to the depths of the unconscious even though at the time you are not fully aware of it. However, when you look at what you have produced you go back to that place and you discover all sorts of interesting things.

I have just recently completed a Foundation Course in Interactive Drawing Therapy (IDT) http://www.interactivedrawingtherapy.com/
which you might find interesting. I am not a therapist but an educator and yet I could see tremendous value in this process in many different contexts.

I look forward to discussing this, and many other things, with you when you come to New Zealand next year. In the meantime email and blog interactions will have to suffice!

Patti, your writing is wonderfully provocative. I'm trying to catch up having only joined the party recently. I've never posted a comment to anything like this before; in this moment I feel a bit too visible. Your challenge is one I had already taken up in a way, but I'm peeling off those layers very slowly...

Patti,

Thank you as always for your words and wisdom. And how in the world did you find all those great pictures of wind-sculpted trees?

Do you know about the Indigo Girls song entitled "Become You"? It's on their 2002 CD of the same name... worth checking out. I'm maybe going to treat myself to their new release later today.

And did you see that Poetry Thursday's prompt for today is "A Song of Myself"?

(Mine's here: http://butwait.blogspot.com/2006/09/key.html)

i feel this post as if it is the narrative of the journey i myself have been on for the past several years. maybe it is something that happens to us inevitably as we near 'middle age'. mari describes it perfectly above as peeling off the layers (and i want to tell her that it took me a very long time to post a comment here). i love, love the agatha christie quote. i don't know how many times in the past two years i have thought 'this is my favorite one' of your writings, but here is another at the top of the list. thank you, thank you for doing this work. you have managed to put my own feelings and thoughts in print for me to see, from the very first essay my brother forwarded to me.

Kismet...

Agatha Christie quote- exquisite.

I have been peeling off layers myself for years, at times putting other layers back on. When I returned to school as a divorced single mom in 2000, I felt released from every "no" or "not now" I ever allowed someone else to reinforce in me. Ironically, by the time I graduated last December, I had re-married and was 10 days from giving birth and becoming "just a stay at home mom" again. Amazingly, I can now embrace my momness as the place where I can both be and find myself most clearly at this point in my life. As I learn to live moment to moment I am appreciating each smile, every coo or belly laugh a million times more than I did in my twenties. This baby girl and her older brothers are my gifts of immortality. When other women say, "So, what are you going to do with your degree?" I say, "Hang it up on my wall."

For now...

Because I am far too busy soaking up some real life.

Thanks for a wonderful read (thanks to my mom Janey, my brother Jef, and my sister Jylene for sending your blog along :)

Zen

Dear friends - my thanks to each of you who have written about this post - I have emailed you each privately, but wanted to extend a public thanks for sharing your thoughts with me and other readers. Each adds a layer of knowing and insight that we all benefit from.

Another winner, Patti, thanks as always.

I've just recently come upon this wonderful place, your place. It was a small reference in SKIRT magazine, and the concept and story spoke to me...loudly. So I have been visiting for a few weeks now. Anyway, as so many others, I suspect, I have been in the midst of this happening, a change or movement in my life, becoming, or maybe more accurately, recognizing who I am. This story is so very timely. This past summer I took 3 months off from work and my "real life", packed up my Jeep and headed out on a cross country journey. It was an amazing and remarkable endeavor for me with many successes on many levels. One thing inparticular that struck me and I consider a wild success, is that I was able to leave behind the Nina that everyone knew or what I accepted as their view or expectation of me and I was able to be me...the unadulterated, pure, me. Me with clarity. It was not vastly different, but it was different. It was liberating and peace giving and scary and beautiful, and I could go on and on but I won't. I'm just grateful that I can hear from others what often takes place in my own head. Life asks many things of us, often involving differnt roles to be filled, different skin whithin which to walk around. It's essential to the survival of our spirit that we be who we are regardless of these differentials. Thank you for this delightful place and sharing such wonderful insights.

I am in this tumultuous phase of my life. Becoming Me. A path chosen by me yet so hard to achieve without the understaning of those who love me, but who, all the while make statements like "We didn't bring you up this way." "You're being selfish and neglecting your children." I followed their rhetoric and expectations and became the perfect mom, wife and caregiver - there was no me.

Then my husband almost died and I realized what a shallow life I was living. I was indeed a fake. An incarnation of what my parents and husband believed a good daughter, wife and mother should be. But there was no Michelle to be found.

I've now found a great passion for life in a way unacceptable to those around me. I find/make/demand time for me. Their discontentment with me occurs because the time I spend by my self, for myself, is unacceptable when after working a full time job, they and my husband believe my three children and my he need me unquestionably and at their beck and call no matter what. "Time for yourself is something you don't have time for when you have children and a heart patient for a husband."

To this I say, time for myself is what preserves my santity. It's what allows me to be there for my family when the need me most; and allows my family to grow strong on their own and realize they need to be there for themselves, by themselves sometimes too.

I will become the best me that I can. I know it's what is best for my family.

The comments to this entry are closed.