storytelling

#reverb 15: summer is for being reckless

I've spent practically all my life on an academic schedule, one where Summer holds a bit less responsibility, a certain kind of promise, even though I often worked through Summer, took classes, researched, wrote papers and poems and dissertations. I've written before about the summers of my past, the ghosts I face and confront every time I visit Alabama, the way I live in-between places, pulled between my roots and wings.

These days I am awash in nostalgia. Old friends, exes email me, become Facebook friends. The "do you remember when" stories pull the girl I was into the forefront of mind, flashing by like a slide show. This is Your Life: weekends at the river, nights on balconies telling stories, singing to friends playing the guitar, going to breakfast in the clothes I wore the night before, sitting on cars in parking lots when the conversations were just too good to leave, falling in love, in beds and out again, spontaneous trips to the beach, the sound of the waves comforting, quieting my restlessness.

The past and present collide in the Summer and I'm always taken aback by my response to Alabama, the sway of memories, the taste of sweet tea, the way heat stays on your skin long after you come inside from it.

Alabama is a place I can travel to, and visit but not somewhere I can really belong, not anymore. Each time I am there, I feel at ease in this fact. Each time, I feel a bit further and further away and I also feel home, kind of… which, I suppose is as good of a description as any and perhaps the only way to manage the tension of living in-between. This is a tension I face often, the kind of reconciliation I don’t know how to make because there may be no way to really make it. 

The ghosts I face, the ones built of what once was, matter. They matter because they shaped who I am, the good and bad, the complex and silly, the selfish and the generous. And while I don’t want to reminisce to the point of exhaustion, I don’t want to forget who I am, nor the girl I’ve been.

Something about Summer will always draw me into memories, waves of nostalgia for the smell of honeysuckle, peeling shrimp in my grandmother's kitchen, watching The Price is Right with my Granny, diving off docks, swimming in the moonlight, Keds caked with mud, furtive glances at Summer crushes you'd never see again. I loved Summer as a kid, loved leaving my house after breakfast and returning just before dinner. I loved the freedom of being outside, away from authority, from rules. I loved riding my bike to the ice-cream shop, to the library, stacks and stacks of books, stories waiting for me to discover them. Even as I got older and worked through the Summers, there was a hint of recklessness to our decisions we might have overlooked when class was in session. We stayed awake a bit longer, drank one or two or four more drinks. We smiled more easily, worried only about getting too much sun. I've always been a bit too serious, and Summer gave me a chance to let things slide, to say things I might not otherwise say, to share more of myself, to run into the crashing waves, or hold hands a moment too long. Summer has never been about standing still, not for me.

Today, summer is time to think, to read, to listen to music a bit too loud, to eat plums, fresh seafood and ignore the way your clothes stick to you in the heat. It is for staying up too late, traveling, reading, and rolling down the windows for the almost cool night air. It is for secrets told on back porches, laughter drifting across lawns, for remembering and forgetting, for throwing yourself into projects, into conversations, into something new.

But never far behind, at least not for me, are all the Summer memories, the promises and possibilities, the yearning to be a little reckless, just a little, once again.

"THEN FOLLOWED THAT BEAUTIFUL SEASON…SUMMER…. FILLED WAS THE AIR WITH A DREAMY AND MAGICAL LIGHT; AND THE LANDSCAPE LAY AS IF NEW CREATED IN ALL THE FRESHNESS OF CHILDHOOD.” – HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

 

The Architecture of Myself, Revisited

Of course there are many ways I could have done or said things differently in my life. I make mistakes. I haven’t always reacted to events and circumstances in ways that yielded prime results. There are things in my past, in my history that sometimes I wish I could do over, or not do it all. There are people I wish I hadn’t gotten involved with, ways I allowed myself to be hurt, to be in situations where none of the options were good ones. And in many ways, I could think of those experiences as wasted time, or at the very least, not entirely worthwhile. Not all failures are good ones, those ones that lead to deeper understanding or growth. Sometimes we just fall down, and it’s messy and we get hurt and we hurt other people and it takes a while to be okay with the choices we’ve made or didn’t make. I used to write poetry about being unapologetic, living recklessly, treating people cavalierly. I often used honesty as a weapon, but rarely turned it on myself. It was too hard to see the pain I was working through. I was too much inside of it. Even the beautiful days were wrought with the loss of their ending, a recognition that the in-between time in which we were living would end, an awareness that I would not always be allowed to be irresponsible, to live so freely. I’ve been conflicted about pieces of my past; regrets and longing tied so closely together, I’m left in knots. At some point in the last few years, however, I just stopped torturing myself about it. 

Things happened to me, and around me. I acted and reacted. This is how life works. I cannot go back; I cannot change the details of my life for a better story. I can’t look at it through a lens that makes it uglier than it was, either. The truth in my many heartbreaks is a spectrum of my remembering and my emotions about those memories. Everyone knows how tough it is to trust a writer’s version of events. We can be liars and truth-tellers, sometimes simultaneously.

I wrote the above a year ago, and I've been thinking about these same themes recently. As someone who writes about her life, perhaps I will always think of and be interested in the things that make us. But I have been specifically thinking of the way I look at (and make judgments of) my younger self and her experiences. I'm not someone who stays friends with exes or people who drop out of my life. Once I'm onto something new, I have a tendency to write off and cut ties with whatever was part of that past. There are exceptions to this, of course, but I tend to be hyper-focused on moving forward once change happens. In some ways this is how I've been about the girl I was in my twenties, though I'm much more nostalgic about that time than I've ever been with any ex or place I've lived or job I've had. Aren't we all a little nostalgic about a time when we had less responsibilities? When we could be a little reckless with our hearts and our time and money?

I think that I have often too easily dismissed her as young, foolish, naive. I think of my younger self as lost, troubled, defiant, often lonely. And I believe I was all of those things. But I was also, (and still am, I hope) fiercely loyal, dependable, fun, adventurous, hopeful, a girl who spoke her mind. I think sometimes I look at where I am now in my life, a life I couldn't have dreamed for myself, and I put too much distance between the girl of then and the person of now. Certainly, I think there are significant differences in confidence, in happiness, in having a handle on who I am and what I want, but I also know that we aren't fixed as people and that as I seek out new perspectives and ideas I'm always growing, and evolving. I might look back at my thirties one day the same way I look at my twenties, and think, "oh boy, I thought I had it all figured out then, ha!"

In my mid-late twenties I began to close myself off to arm myself against getting hurt. I compartmentalized, intellectualized, tried to numb all of the emotions and experiences that had built me because I was overwhelmed by how lonely I suddenly felt. I was also mourning my grandfather and then later, my great-grandmother. I moved away (some might say ran) from the only place I'd ever felt at home. There was a lot of painful growth during my doctoral program both intellectually and emotionally. I fell in love; I grew up. I shut doors and opened others. I was learning what it meant to be myself in a new place where no one knew me. It was nice to have that freedom to figure some things out for myself. During a class on web design, I was more honest about who I was than I'd ever been before when I built a website called "Architecture of Myself," which was an extended poem built around the metaphors architecture: facades and niches, cornerstones and rubble. It was one of my favorite assignments, and though the site itself is a bit dated in terms of design, it remains as something I'm really proud of, for what I was able to say. (By the way, if you click on the link to the site, the photos are the links to each page of the poem).

When I talk to my students, and moreso when I listen to them, I'm always happy not to be in their shoes, even when there are days I feel really old. I'm glad I don't have to do college in the age of social media, grateful for the freedom to make mistakes, to be a little reckless. The mistakes I made are important, integral to my personhood. Sometimes I wish I'd been less cavalier with people's feelings, including my own. I regret how I treated some people and how I allowed myself to be treated, but I have a deeper understanding now of the importance of kindness, and what it means to be kind to yourself. Part of that kindness should be granted to my twenties year-old self. For all the mistakes she might have made, she knew how to have a good time, to throw herself fully into people and their lives. I think I've spent the past five years (at least) trying to get some of that muchness back, to recapture her openheartedness.

I tell my students that analysis is about taking something apart, examining its individual pieces in order to better understand how it works. That's certainly been true of my own indulgent analysis. I'm in search of how I work, what makes me, why I respond the way I do, in order to deepen myself, to break myself more widely open, and be more porous to the world. There's something significant too, about finding ways to embrace silence, the quiet as part of this process. In some ways, maybe I had to separate myself from that brash, young girl with so much to say, always filling the silence with music, words, wine. (Maybe things haven't changed that much after, all). Perhaps, such separation was necessary so I could better see how to put myself back together in all my messy complexity. I find it much easier today to look at things I wrote, even photos of myself in my twenties without feeling sad for all that I don't know. Instead I'd like to reach back in time and high-five myself, though with my purple hair and don't mess with me attitude, my twenties year-old self would probably roll her eyes at me and scoff before climbing into her Toyota Corolla, blaring Smashing Pumpkins through open windows. In the rearview mirror, however, there is a smile of acknowledgment, a tenderness at her sharp edges.

And in a blink she is gone.