Saturday, November 01, 2008

Cognitive dissonance... ?

Wrote earlier about a recent encounter with a professional photographer that left me with questions. He was assigned to produce a series of "people" pictures for an exhibit of some sort and, I -- among others -- drove up to Martinez at the request of our Chief of Interpretation to participate. I might be able to fill in the "elder" quota; a simple assignment easily met.

Was impressed by the huge amount of gear he produced for the work, and wondered what on earth he could catch that others may have missed? Rarely have I seen photos of myself that I've been particularly pleased with. Earlier we'd flipped through some of his portfolio showing his work documenting the De Anza Trail. Great work, and his enthusiasm for it was clearly evident. Maybe this time ... .

I stood in front of the visitor's center at the John Muir Memorial site in a place that he'd determined gave us the desired early afternoon light. He worked with the glazed look of someone totally preoccupied with the task at hand -- I'd quickly become "subject" and he seemed to be looking beyond (inside?) me with "chin higher, lower, look here, follow my finger," etc., but never appeared really satisfied with what was in his viewfinder. I could sense it. Eventually, he didn't really formally end the session so much that he simply moved on without any sign of either completion or satisfaction. I could sense his frustration though neither of us gave words to it.

My suspicions were confirmed when I next saw him a couple of weeks later at the Home Front Festival. He asked if it would be possible for us to meet for another photo shoot soon? He still had that troubled look on his face as he asked the question. I knew that the artist's mind had seen something that the technical mind had failed to produce and that it was still troubling him.

I hadn't yet seen a copy of the original. A few days ago it arrived in an email and there she was; my mother! There is as much cognitive dissonance rolling around inside my psyche as that being experienced by the photographer.

The body that I "look out of" is not the one who looks back at me from my mirror each morning. An indisputable sign of aging is the fact that one no longer needs a mirror to apply the minimal makeup I now use (lip gloss and a bit of blush over cheekbones with lightly-defined brows). I'm not sure that I even see the image before me most of the time. My mind must provide filters that allow me to see a version of myself developed somewhere along the way that no longer fits reality. What is left of the Betty in the recent photo holds the very essence of my parents -- leaving very little room for whatever bits and pieces Betty contributed along the continuum of our collective lives. I think what little is left by now is referred to by others as character.

I can see the "me" of it in personal taste in dress (Indonesian batik), in the lovely antique (250 year-old) amber necklace brought back from Ladahk (on the Tibetan border) many years ago by my late husband, Bill. It adorned the bronze throat of a native woman who was willing to part with it for a price (sadly!). I've always wished I knew its story... I often imagine I can feel its energy. These provide evidence that my life experience thrust the Charbonnet/Breaux lines out beyond our national borders and back into the world from whence they originally came (France, Africa, Spain, etc), at least superficially since I didn't make the trip with him.

Other than the record here in this journal, most of my Betty disappeared gradually along with most of my "pretty" but I'm guessing that -- in some spiritual/electronic/chemical way -- there are enough traces of my individuality contained in what gets communicated in a "live" encounter that the (artist) photographer senses; wants desperately to capture and record -- but which stays tantalizingly beyond reach. Could that be true? Very rarely these days, am I able to find the essential me, either -- though I continue to look behind these words for evidence that I have lived and continue to forge a life for myself.

Perhaps that's why I write.

Maybe I'm still establishing my position in space and the irrevocable right to appear in the faces of my children and theirs far into some distant future, as the features of my ancestors -- my parents -- are etched so deeply into mine.

Could this, then, be immortality?

In looking back it occurs to me that I'd probably have been willing to give up a few good years of character for a few more years of pretty!

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