I like old faces--the fragile top layers covering the strength of underlying bone. These faces with their ever-developing web of wrinkles pique my interest. I wonder about their life stories. Did their owners have children, and are their children still living? Or did they suffer the loss no parent should ever experience? Did they fight in a war? Did they care for the wounded? Were they kind, were they crabby? Did they make someone's life a living hell? Did they love well?
So many beautiful faces and all but invisible in our American culture that finds no appeal or interest in them. (I often think that if some life form on a distant planet were monitoring what the U.S. media broadcasts into ether, they would conclude that no one on this planet survives past fifty--or if they do, they lose their minds and start acting stupid, batty, or crude.)
Heads of state, world-renown surgeons and corporate leaders are played on television and film by twenty-to forty-somethings. While I find myself looking at the young with a mother's warm and squishy heart and could cry in awe at the exquisiteness of my daughters' unlined faces, I fear we're missing a good portion of the spectrum.
We're being trained by a youth-oriented culture to turn away from the aged, as if a well-worn, uninjected, unaltered countenance is embarrassing or shameful. Quick, hide your offensive, sagging jowls! Sadly, we're losing our ability to appreciate our many seasons of beauty.
My mom will be ninety years old this year. The loves and losses of her life are written in her wrinkles. Her skin is almost transparent in places, her hands and feet bent from arthritis. But her face tells a lovely story of tenacity and perseverance, and of joy and gratitude for her life.
But you have to look to see it.
My body and I haven't always gotten along. There were decades where we pretty much snubbed each other.
I think it began when I discovered that I couldn't run as fast as my friends or when my softball throw from second base bounced and dribbled its way to first. I was terribly thin and gained the nickname of "Toothpicks" with the boys in sixth grade. And then those horrid teen years came along with their hypercritical evaluations of everything, including how my body hadn't delivered on my pre-puberty expectations. Part of me was too small, another too big. My body had not followed my blueprint for the perfect (according to Seventeen magazine) figure.
After that, my body and I agreed to disagree and we went our separate ways, each of us doing what was required without much thought of the other. The years passed, my husband and I had two beautiful girls. I never even gave my body a pat on the back for that, even though I realize now how hard it worked to figure it all out.
Then in midlife, my body started to rebel, started demanding my attention. Getting out of bed, my back would take a moment to come into alignment, it would squawk as I bent over to get the dog's food. I could sneeze and give myself a stiff neck.
My doctor recommended yoga and I blew her off. But my body became insistent with each new ache or pain. So I reluctantly started classes once a week. The positions were awkward and I didn't like down dog, which the instructor unbelievably called a "resting" pose. I'm not naturally flexible, so while others sat up straight with their legs out in front of them, I sat at 70 degrees. But after a few months I noticed that my body and I were making amends. In my late fifties, I wasn't losing strength, I was gaining it. I started going two, then three times a week and I marveled at my body's progress.
One day I looked at my face in the mirror as I had so many other mornings. But instead of chastising myself for yet another new wrinkle, I saw my body as my friend. I looked deeper into its lines and creases and realized how far we'd come together. I thought about how many miles my body had walked for me, and how many cuts and bruises it had healed over the years without reproach for my carelessness. I was awestruck by how, with no prior experience, it had navigated the intricacies of child bearing and nursing. I was awash with gratitude for hands that could soothe a child and arms that could hug a friend.
So I make this declaration to the world: I LOVE MY FABULOUS BODY!
Many times when people ask me about writing they say, "Oh I could never do that." And yet, they seem intrigued by the idea. I can hear it in their voices, see it in the glint of an eye. I tell them truthfully I believe they can.
I wasn't born a writer. How many times have I heard an author say, "Oh yes, I wrote my first play as soon as I could hold a pen."? No, that wasn't me. I didn't write a word of fiction until I was almost 40, when I penned a children's book for my daughter. On a whim I showed it to a writer friend who encouraged (read "lovingly badgered") me to continue.
I've finished four novels over the years and yet every time I start a new project I'm overcome with self-doubt. I can't write an outline to save myself. When my fingers hit the keys in those first paragraphs, the words come slow and clunky. I can't find my rhythm. I stumble forward bemoaning the loss of any talent I might have possessed. And then, as I persevere and the stack of pages grows, something magical happens. I lose myself in the world I've imagined. The characters become real people with unique personalities. Conflict builds. In my mind, the setting grows rich in color and aroma. I have found my way to that creative river that runs through us all and have dipped my ladle.
I ponder the source of creativity. It seems so fluid, so unpredictable--one day like a conduit running at capacity, the next, tightened down until only a few drips slip through. And yet it seems that the gods of authorship reward a stubborn heart. The very act of putting one's butt in the chair and fingers on a keyboard claims their attention.
So to anyone who has ever been so inclined, I say give it a try. Bring a couple of characters with you to the keyboard. Put them in a parlor of an old Victorian, or in a kayak in the middle of lake, or on top of a mountain in the middle of a snowstorm and see what they have to say, see what they do. They may have a story to tell. And you may be the author they've been looking for.
Thoughts on writing and anything else that comes to mind.
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