“What is inconceivable to me is that I am not a child anymore or a teenager, or a young mother, or 20, or 30, or 40, or 50. Not on the outside, anyway. Not where people see. And that all of our lives are circumscribed by this. Because all of our lives we are more than what we are at a single moment. We are every age and every person we have ever been.”
Sometimes, I catch reflections of myself in store windows and for infinitesimal moments there is an unfamiliar person standing there. It’s me, but it’s the image people hold of me, which is unlike how I view myself. It reminds me that while we all have people in our lives that we think we know, no one can ever perceive the totality of anyone else.
Many years ago, I went to a show featuring coworkers displaying their non-work pursuits. The exhibits included one woman’s life sized oil paintings, another’s hand stitched quilts; vibrant woven blankets hanging from wooden racks and colorful fired-clay pots grouped on long folding tables. Each arrangement reflected an unknown side to our coworkers, but one display in particular stayed with me.
The artist wore her hair bleached white-blonde, complete with dark roots, black eyeliner, and blue eye shadow; she often strolled the company halls in black stilted heels. She wore sweaters cut low; leather skirts that rode high; like her clothing style her reputation was hard and unforgiving. Yet, I was captivated by her intricate and detailed shadow boxes filled with tiny people, furniture, and family scenes. Each miniature was a replica of real life; tables set with minuscule forks and knives, floors with brick facsimiles, a minute fireplace. I walked away astounded by the patience required to create these stunning pieces.
The last time I saw this coworker, she wore a cotton jumper, Birkenstock shoes, simple makeup and her hair was fading to grey. But regardless of her current style, she is neither the woman I viewed way back when, nor the woman as she appears now. Like everyone, she is many selves, including the serene creator of those lovely dioramas.
So when I catch a glimpse of me, that stranger in store windows, I recognize that I am numerous things too. To my husband, I am a partner, a friend, and I suppose an aging version of the teasing, curly haired, 100-pound-girl he asked out 28 years ago. My daughter sees someone different--a scattered mom who repeats herself, an occasional nag, a means to transportation who is also an enthusiastic cook, and a co-conspirator who sometimes sneaks off with her for pastries and coffee after school. To others, I am a former business professional, finding her way after a change in circumstance.
But regardless of what others see, it is sinking in that writing this blog over the last two months has been about acknowledging all this, in an effort to determine what more there might be. As Beverly Beckham attests, I am, in fact, every person I have ever been--the shy teenager, the diary writer, the college poet, the door slammer, the recruiter, the mom, the friend, the manager, the sister, the wife, all combined into this blog writer who is my most recent incarnation.
For many years I’ve felt defined by a single image reflected through the lens of my career. This dimension however, is no longer enough. The shutter burst wide open two months ago, and I’m celebrating what appears in the viewfinder; the assortment of elements that total up to the complexity that’s me.