Thursday, May 19, 2005

New (old) and precious discoveries ...

Organizing my files of yellowed fragile papers is a bit like being reborn. I'm finding correspondence from many now deceased but well remembered; bits of incomplete poems jotted hastily on the backs of envelopes long ago; song lyrics that failed to give birth to music; faded newspaper clippings of feats I'd forgotten long ago but now see as the stepping stones leading to the Betty of now. All demanding that I stop and pay attention. Every scrap leading to openings into a past of all of the women that I am. What a strange, emotionally exhausting, and wonderful process ... .

For instance:

I discovered these notes of something called


(while ironing)

The sun glows within me - the wind sings my song
the ebb and the flow of the tides mark my cycle of being
A Woman am I -- and the day of my dawning is now!

I hold deep within me the buds of the flowr's of creation
their blooms ... color all I behold!
with man I have moved throughout time 'roun this Garden of Being
A Woman am I - and the day of my dawning is now!

I've carried within me the kings, queens, and slaves of the ages
I've havened the dreams of the poets and painters and pages
I've borne, nurtured, buried the young ones destroyed by man's rages
A Woman am I -- and the day of my dawning is now!

© Betty Reid, 6/1961

The date on these notes places their origin long before the Womens' Liberation Movement became an irresistible force for change. Prophetic?

I can only imagine very young Betty standing over that ironing board on a blazingly hot day -- dreaming huge dreams of power and rebellion and starved for freedom from life with no access to the depths of herself; trying terribly hard to fulfill the expectations of marriage and motherhood. Can't remember the time of day or what caused such a sense of determination; defiance! It must have been an epiphany that heralded a major life change. If I recall correctly, this preceded the beginnings of what would later be diagnosed as a period of psychosis. In looking back through the lens imbued with the wisdom of accumulated years, I know now that this was surely an unfortunate mis-diagnosis. It did not take into account the impossibility of being sane in a world gone mad.

As a lonely young mother in a failing marriage with a troubled adolescent son struggling with gender identification; two little boys battling valiantly with racism in an all-white world of the suburbs; having to deal daily with rejection from an irrational hostile community because of skin color; and just beginning to come to terms with the growing certainty that my beautiful 3 year-old daughter was born brain damaged and would need a lifetime of constant care. I'm certain now that what was then seen as a mental breakdown was an appropriate response to an impossible set of life circumstances. The mind finds ways to protect itself from what it cannot process. Mine did it through art and music. What could have been more fitting?

That there was undeniable evidence of suicidal tendencies was troublesome, but I was able to move past that crisis and survive. I apparently used it well under the care of a sensitive and caring therapist who -- after months of reassembling my psyche, was able to broaden my understanding of what "normal" meant and to broaden the definition enough to include myself with little alteration. No small feat, that. He gave me the strength to be centered, to stand pat, and to let the world adjust to me. I suppose that I'm still doing that, even as we speak.

I know that the song was never completed since the cadence is rough though I can surely hear strains of the music in my head still, as I read the words and know where the "held" notes are that create the rhythm of the piece and make the words fit into a melodic pattern.

There are many more such works here in these boxes; some that went on to be performed, but many -- as in this one -- never rose above their existence as words scrawled passionately in pencil on fading notebook paper, or in some cases, brown paper bags - then long forgotten.

It's quite possible that in this neglected collection of papers -- moved laboriously in cardboard boxes from place to place over a long lifetime without really knowing why, or even taking the time to open the files to read through them -- are the makings of a book. It could be that mine is a life with universal themes as there are in all our lives; themes that speak meaningfully to other women from other times across many lines of separation ...

Surely there are ironing meditations in the lives of most of us -- even while the chore of ironing has virtually disappeared with the development of synthetic fabrics. Along with them may have come synthetic lives in which the variables must be erased in order to be compliant with some agreed-upon normalcy. Maybe such thoughts now come to us on the stairmaster or while waiting in the SUV in the parking lot of the soccer field -- while we wait for an insane world to adjust to us... .

Maybe ... .

Could it be?

No comments: