a personal history
A lady visited Matisse in his studio, looked at one of his paintings and said: “But, surely the arm of this woman is much too long.”
“Madame,” the artist politely replied, “you are mistaken. This is not a woman. This is a picture.”*
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And this is not a woman. This is a blog.
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And this is the most indulgent of all self indulgences: the personal history, a.k.a. the “about page.” It is not a bio or a list of writing credits. It is a collection of photos and sentiments that are central to who I am (becoming).
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I’m obsessed with how each of us has so many lives, not old ones, not future ones, but a million present ones, existing at the same time, vying for the lead role. But don’t be fooled into thinking any of them is more real than the others. (It is a philosophy I fell in love with in high school when I read every book written by Richard Bach.)
Think about your life as a writer: it’s not just a single life; it’s many. Each poem its own spiritual being.
Think about your life as a child: thousands of versions of yourself tumble in the grass.
Think about your life as a lover: you stay and you go; you’re always in bed with someone.
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And so I am all the people I have ever been and even the ones I have chosen not to be. Some of them have faces and some of them don’t. Of the ones who do, there are a few who jump up and down constantly asking me to pay attention. Some of them have been captured in photos I keep in a small box (roughly 5 X 7 X 2). I tell myself that when I run away from it all, this is the box I take with me. It contains visual reminders of everyone loitering on the lawn no matter where I land; here are some selections that seem especially important:
This is me. In my tiny little glory. Always, a daddy’s girl.
This is me (left) and my sister. I have been realizing that we don’t have any really good photos of us together as adults, but this is a definitive picture of us as kids. Look at our faces. Who can argue that we are born with so much of us already written?
This is me on my first day of kindergarten. I wanted to go to school more than anything. I am wearing clothes sewn by my mother. My ears are newly pierced.
This is me and my date for the eighth grade dance, which was the most anticipated thing in my life up to that point. And this isn’t just any date. This is my soul mate, and whether or not you believe in such things, this photo is amazing because it captures the connection. This is a moment in time when I didn’t know I would ever be without him. He was “something else.” Look at his jacket. Look at me in another homemade dress.
I found this note the night before writing this post, and its re-emergence is a terrific gift. This is a note that was tucked inside the high school graduation card given to me by that soul mate, who had moved to Kansas or some far away place after our sophomore year. It says, “Dear Carolee, Thank you for all the loving and caring you’ve managed to throw my way. You’ve been a major part in making me who I am today. (such as I am) I love you and wish we weren’t so far apart. Keep looking for your artist. I know he’s waiting for you. I love you and always will.” The note is proof that he has always been of another world; seventeen and eighteen year olds don’t talk like that.
This is me with one of my beloved college professors at my college graduation. He had a huge influence on me, my view of the world, my belief in writing as something necessary in the world, as something I could offer, as something I could find myself in. I remember college as one of the most consistently happy times of my life.
I have been married twice. This is me as a new bride (the second time). And this is the man I married both times. We had two weddings because our families live so far apart. Look how young we were! I had just turned 23. There will always be a bride in me. There will always be someone in me who’ll do anything to have someone look at me like this.
This is me with my oldest son (blog name Grainger). There is a magical story about how he came to be, which I’m not telling here. Just know that he is an old soul, and I don’t know many things with 100 percent certainty, but one of those things is this: I am the right mother for this child. (On a less serious note, look at all my hair! Talk about other lifetimes!)
This is me with my second son (blog name Loverboy). He would not sleep without me. Ever. We spent many nights together on the couch. I didn’t always sleep. Sometimes I watched the deer — a dozen or more — play near a tree just a few feet away from the window. I was 5 or 6 months pregnant with him when the towers collapsed in Manhattan. The moment of his birth is distinct in that everything else fell away.
This is me with the youngest (blog name Pouter). When I got pregnant with him, I had a three year old and a 10-month old already. I was so busy I was barely aware I was pregnant, and so his emergency c-section delivery was traumatic in many ways. The poor thing, he is blamed for all the chaos that ensued: three boys! It has pushed me beyond the edge of my sanity, both clinically and emotionally. I am 32 in this picture, and I see the me who has just remembered that she is a creative and singular being (strange to realize that with so many people clinging).
This picture is in the-box-containing-all-of-my-lives because it is a picture about love. And it’s been very difficult for me all my life to believe it. But it’s undeniable in this picture. As a mother, I usually fail to see it because mostly I am blinded by all the nonsense.
This is the girl who was coming out of all the others. She is the one I most want to be. She is the one I’m not sure can last.
This is me in December 2008. Yes, it’s a little out of focus. That’s perfect. I was a moving target. I became uncharacteristically sentimental last fall. I became both more confident and less confident in my writer and artist selves and more of my selves than I care to mention. I watched everything, including my mother’s life threatening illness, from a distance. I have been closer than ever to running away and quite worried I never will. And so this is me. One of me will always be a little out of focus.
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At one point in my life, not so long ago, I felt a desperation that I must find a way to integrate all of these girls, all of these women. Perhaps through my study of expressive arts, perhaps through the writing (or perhaps the realization of how uncooperative they all are), I have decided to let them run wild.
The only way I can ever forgive myself for this excess in reflection is to turn some of it into poetry. Create the illusion of productivity. (Pretend i don’t know that writing poems is so often — always? — narcissistic.)
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And the last section of this now-beastly personal history page is dedicated to everything you don’t see here. All of the really homely pictures. All of the really fat pictures. The 400th picture of me with a Corona in my hand (my goodness!). The ugly people are people, too, and I commune with them frequently.
And here’s to the few that did manage to get away. This one was last seen running away from both of her families, somewhere all by herself in Salem:
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*I found this quote on the front panel of a greeting card. The back panel has been torn off and so I cannot properly credit the source. If someone knows, please enlighten me.