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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!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Working over the past few days on an article I've been asked to write -- to be submitted to the California Historian for publication in spring ... .

Shouldn't be a problem, right? I'm at the age where I've become living history myself, and -- having outlived all the naysayers in my life there are few left to dispute my claims; an enviable position to be in; or so one would imagine, anyway.

Been trying to recall all those flashing insights that pop into my head when I'm walking a group along the time-line at the truly moving Rosie the Riveter Memorial at Marina Bay Park. It's what we Interpreters do. The relevant facts are right there accessible at the front of the brain, and move out between my lips as if programmed in advance. I'm often surprised and delighted at the kinds of memories that are invoked on those walks through history. I've occasionally been silently pleased at a continuing ability to clearly articulate those times that our generation survived against such great odds. I can still feel the affect of those traumatic years in the process of the telling.

But now it's time to require my fingers to kick in and connect with those memories enough to enable my brain to produce a lengthy piece for publication. That's a horse of a different color; and this ain't Oz!

Why am I able to write so effortlessly when it's a matter of free association -- as with blogging? This is not in the least difficult. I simply imagine the words onto the screen and up they spring as if through some direct line twixt mind and fingertips. This has always been true. My personal files are filled with accounts of events, ceremonies, stories, challenges, written long ago to no one in particular. Long before blogging was the order of the day, keeping a journal of some sort has been an on-going practice. There are fading carbon copies written on onion skin and typed on my faithful and beloved old IBM Selectric with it's back-spacing correction feature and immensely satisfying slapping back of the carriage at the end of each line! It seems only yesterday, and long before my love affair with my MAC.

Was invited this week to attend parts of a 3-day conference celebrating the 40th anniversary of the demonstrations that occurred at San Francisco State University during the Sixties. It was the time characterized by Dr. S.I. Hayakawa pacing like a caged tiger atop one of the buildings along the Quad -- wearing his tassle-topped tam 'o shanter and wielding that infamous bullhorn.

Tonight there is a reception featuring Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover and other dignitaries that will celebrate the winning of the battle to create the first Ethnic Studies Department in the country. What happened at SFSU would usher in a completely new and sustaining edge in the field of education that would be emulated on campuses through the Academy.

When Ray Allen called to tell me about the conference and to extend the invitation to attend, I suddenly recalled that somewhere in my files was a folder containing an eye-witness account of those demonstrations. I was there! I'd written about the experience. Again, I'd recorded history before there was any hint that it would ever be meaningful or worth marking as of any consequence. Prescient? Yes. Always.

Over the past few days I searched and found the folder and spent what seemed endless hours reading through my long-forgotten notes -- the completed series of what I (apparently) hoped might someday be worth publishing. (The fantasies of a young mother plotting escape?)


Back to today: Why -- when writing has been so effortless over a long lifetime -- do I feel so inadequate to the task of doing a formal piece for a journal? And, no, it isn't the first such invitation -- I received an invitation to submit a weekly column for a local newspaper some time ago and couldn't find the will to even answer the request. I simply tucked it away after allowing myself to feel my ego temporarily expand to new levels, and then felt embarrassed over the next months each time I ran into the editor socially who'd extended the offer. Maybe it felt good enough to be asked without having to deliver. After all, my blogging elicits little response from readers so there is little accountability to contend with.

When my paper on Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park appears in print sometime in the spring, I will have published. What on earth is so fearful about that?

I truly don't know... .

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