Sunday, February 6, 2011

Coloring Outside the Lines

It was a beautiful day in the neigh- borhood... and a strange, strange weekend in my universe. After I wrote my post last Sunday, I went out into the sunshine where the temperature was approaching the day's 71 degree high to sit and bask at a table in front of the cafe. I was soon approached by a man about my age who, saying he wasn't from here, asked if it was always like this in January. We proceeded to talk for the next 30 minutes. Let me just say here, that I don't generally talk to strangers, at least more than a phrase or two here and there. Ken was clearly accustomed to jumping right in, however, and we talked easily about things deeper than I generally discuss with friends. He asked if I believed everyone had a purpose, for example. I surprised myself by having an answer to that. Mostly, though he was really trying to engage me to talk--and I was talking--he was needing to inject as often as possible stuff about the capital W-Who that he is. My friend, Charly, who knows more about men than I do, says that's how men show their feathers. You have to try not to judge them until they finish strutting. Then you see if they can ask you questions; and, more importantly, if they can listen to the answers. This Ken does have a very interesting life, I must say. He is a nomad and photographer for such organizations as National Geographic, and he has a special interest in America's national parks. (I did google him.) He is leaving soon for one more tour in Afghanistan and then thinking of settling down in Seattle. I could tell you much more about him, but this blog is about me.

Ken got me thinking about coloring outside the lines; as is the book I am reading that Emma gave me for Christmas, Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World, by Rita Gelman, who became in mid-life an outside-the-lines colorer. I have no aspirations of a nomadic life. I like to travel, but I like home more. I am just interested in people who figure out how to step out of bounds and ignore the blowing whistle. When I was a colorer of coloring books, my first step on a new page was to trace all the lines with a crayon--thinking that would provide a physical barrier to keep my filling-in-color from inappropriately crossing into uncharted territory. I also took piano lessons. The lines of the staff kept the notes where they were supposed to be. I had a hard time memorizing the music; I needed the lines to guide me in the way in which I should go. My mother could not read music, and thus she said she couldn't play the piano. But when she sat down and played Humoresque from her heart, her hands flew and bounced on the keys. I wanted to play like that, but I kept to the lines.

Years ago I visited the gallery of an art school. On a wall was an art quilt in which some of the patchwork pieces had come apart at the seams and were spinning free of the carefully constructed, perfectly symmetrical body of the work. The vision of that color sneaking out beyond the lines has stayed with me all these years. I color outside the lines more these days. I don't like instructions; I prefer to figure it out myself. And I don't read how-to gardening books. I sit in a waiting room this week, looking through a Better Homes and Gardens. There is an illustrated article about what flowers do well together, how to group them, how many of each, and where to place them in the bed for the "better" look. A chart is included so the gardening reader can get it right. I feel brief guilt of wrongdoing as I recall impulse buying plants that call to me in the garden shop. The article warns against such behavior; like going to the grocery store without a list (heaven forbid you should act on a sudden hankering for pecan-crusted salmon that you hadn't planned on). I quickly shrug off the wrist-slap. I am coloring outside the lines. Does staying in the lines keep the color in? Or out?

Sir Wally of Raleigh saw his shadow at noon on Groundhog's Day. Since he would have seen his shadow at noon on pretty much any day of the year in the south, where winter does not hold a snow shovel to winter in the northlands, to depend on such an impostor as a predictor of the coming of spring is just plain lunacy. Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, and I am sticking with him. The dangerously warm day on Sunday gets me day-dreaming about spring projects in the garden. But there is still plenty of winter left, regardless of what either Wally or Phil predict. In honor of Groundhog's Day, I dream a recurring nightmare this week. Only it has a twist. It is the end of the semester--I am in graduate school, not the usual junior high of my dream in the past. I have been to none of my classes all semester, and have done none of the reading. But I am not panicked. In fact, I realize that I haven't been to class because I am no longer interested in the field of study I have chosen. Days before the date of the finals, I walk into the registrar's office and withdraw.  

In my dream I worry about telling my parents that I have quit, but it doesn't feel like quitting to me. It feels courageous and right. I suppose this last is part of the dream because my father has been on my mind this week. Last week ended with the news that my former husband is leaving Raleigh, which feels really odd. Everyone I came here with is gone. I feel the loss of that relationship all over again. Even more bizarre is that he is returning to the place where we began our life together, calling up many memories of those halcyon days when we didn't know it wouldn't always be that way. The new week began with a call from my mother, saying that my dad's best friend of some 60 years had died. He has been looking after her these past fifteen years (a bit more than she needed, but I expect it was a comfort and a connection) since Daddy died. She said it felt like Daddy had died all over again. (I said it was a strange, strange weekend. Lost threads of connection that we didn't even know were tethering us. Feeling cut adrift in the world.) I hated to disappoint my father, even as an adult. And he had solid lines holding in "appropriate" behavior. It was always hard to tell him I was coloring outside the lines he drew; and there were consequences when I did. I guess it is always hard to tell those we love that we are going to leave the boundaries, especially if we drew them together. It is so hard, in fact, that sometimes it seems easier to just stay in them.

I have lived in four states. Though I dragged my feet to only one of them, all of the moves from my birth state were in response to someone else's life, and I was the follower. Within this state, I have made some courageous moves outside the lines. But they were not made alone, and though I didn't drag my feet, they were in response to someone else's choices again. My next move will be my choice alone. I anticipate that will be harder. It is hard to be in control of the crayon and move it outside the lines. Each time I go to my heart home for a visit, I am privileged to fly over the Great Plains. Crop circles and their amazing patterns can only be seen when we get some distance from them. When we look at our lives from afar, we can see the patterns. We can see those we like, and those we don't. There is opportunity this rainy Saturday for reflection. Reflection on what we see, or really seeing what we reflect on, is the beginning of change. My parents never told me to get my head out of the clouds, but I know many parents do tell their children that. Stay inside the lines, keep the notes on the staff. I say to us all, "Let Groundhog's Day be over. Get your head in the clouds, dream of the life you want. Then don't be afraid to color outside the lines."

1 comment:

Charly On Life said...

You are so consistent in your writing. Coloring inside and outside the lines, you flow solid color through your kaleidoscope. A pleasure to read.