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Life Among the Legs

I loved my childhood.  Aside from the interminable torture of school, I ran wild and free.  My imagination was boundless; the backyard was my kingdom and I was Princess Leia.  I rarely watched TV, and I would cram all my homework into every spare second between subjects in school, so my time was just that:  Mine.  Glorious, joyful, autonomy.  I would fight to avoid baths, my hair was dirty, my legs were covered in welts - it was awesome.

Once I became a teenager and started mooning around, miserable from the power of hormones, paralyzed by all the thoughts and yearnings banging around my brain, I pretty much forgot about all that.  

And then, eventually, I became a mother.

Welcome back, childhood.

Looking at the world of children with adult eyes, the old non-conformist, anti-establishemnt girl inside me is outraged.  Most first world kiddos are lucky if they get 3 years at home to just play before they are put into some kind of school; depending on where you live, social pressure has you in some kind of organized activity practically from birth, and don’t even get me started talking about electronics.  I felt sick at the idea of sending my daughter to pre-k for three mornings a week, but I did it for two reasons:  I knew her kindergarten would be a full day, and I wanted to ease her into that, and also in spite of my strong rebel attitude I do believe just as strongly in education.  So, off she went.  And the following year to kindergarten for an astonishing 7 hours a day at age 5.  Homework, too.  It broke my heart.  

Where is there time for childhood?  Where has it gone?  Why do they need to play with our phones, anyway? Time passes, quickly; in my opinion, youth should to be encouraged, drawn out, savored.  I’ve noticed that my own child is happiest when she is dirty, free of schedules and rules and people telling her what to do.  We count the days until school holidays in my house; it’s a time when happiness abounds, when we wad up the calendar and throw it away.

In my post-baby, getting-older, overly-sentimental state, I started looking for the pure life of these beautiful, miniature human beings with my camera.  I don’t remember the adults around and above me when I was small; I have no memory of my life among the legs, although I do remember occasionally grabbing the wrong one.

I looked, and here is a sample of what I have found so far. This project is ongoing for me, and a lot of fun to work on, not just as a photographer but also as an observer of human nature. It’s interesting to see how children interact with the reality of adult life, the waiting, standing around, talking, shopping.  The undercurrent of pedestrian life is important.  One day, they will grow up and change the world.

This project is ongoing.  The "full" set of photos can be seen in a folder on my website.

May

2014

2014

Dreamer spreads her wings                                                                                                           

Each day is filled with wonder                                                                                                

Watch her as she flies

2008

2008

Yesterday, she was a baby.  I blinked, and today she is a witty, intelligent, creative friend and helper.  She makes omelettes, and mac & cheese; she has great ideas, and surprises me daily. Motherhood has transformed from the panic-stricken act of fulfilling every need, to supervision and guidance.  I see the differences between us, and celebrate them with her.  These days when I make a photograph of the two of us, she expects (and is usually granted) input.  

Thanks to National Poetry Month, my Mother's Day present from Louise this year is an anthology of poems that she wrote at school.  They are precious to me, of course, and offer me a glimpse inside her mind that I don't normally see.  Poetry Month also gifted me with the chance to encourage and inspire more writing from her:  when I suggested she write cinquains to accompany my cyanotypes, she jumped at the chance and produced one after another.  I dug out all the poetry books I bought when she was younger, the ones she was never interested in before, and have read them all to her at bedtime.  That well having run dry, I decided to fish out a book of my own poetry (yikes) from 20 years ago.

Twenty years.  A lifetime for some - half my own lifespan right now.  I haven't looked at that book in two decades, but as I read the work to her I remembered the circumstances that provided the impetus for putting pencil to paper.  Louise was rapt (believe me, they are hardly award winners) and asked me why I quit writing.  The honest answer was one I'm not prepared to give her: too much harsh, offhand criticism from someone in my life that meant everything to me at the time.  Beware, critics.  You never know what fire you might be spitting on, and putting out.

2017

2017

The next night, after a "poetry class" at the kitchen table - her teaching me about concrete poems, diamantes, etc - it was time for another bedtime reading.  For this one I plucked a book of The Essential Browning off the shelf, one I again had not touched in many years, expecting it to be Elizabeth Barrett.  Instead, it was Robert, and inside we found an inscription from the wonderful woman who gave it to me, for my high school graduation.  

As a book binder, my father sometimes met writers who self published small batches of books, which is how I ended up meeting Clara Lacy Fentress.  She was a kind, gracious mentor with a lighthearted, joyful attitude, whose encouragement I wish I had managed to carry with me for longer.  Also inside the book was a letter from her and two photographs of me at her house. I thought they were hilarious - look at me! look at that outfit oh my goodness - Louise couldn't put them down.  "You look like a teenager!!"  I told her I was a teenager.  Past, meet present.

Could I have imagined, that day, in Mrs. Fentress' parlor, that eventually I would have a daughter?  I remember she had a cat who would promptly make itself comfortable on my lap;  me, allergic, always laughed about it, and now here I am with two cats in my house.  I'm not sure that Louise could articulate her own thoughts and feelings, but she must have had plenty of them because she looked at the photographs for a long time.

So we as mothers are always living in two worlds.  Raising my own child in Texas, just an hour or so away from where I grew up, I am often assailed with memories of my own childhood.  The light, the scent of outdoors through the windows, they are portals to another time, but also part of this time and this reality, her reality.  Our lives are woven into a continuous strand.  

Our journey together, so far, spans 9, nearly 10, years:  three "homes," two states, lots of huge changes. We are both headed for new phases in our lives:  growing phases.  While we are different, we are also the same; just as she mourns the grey hairs on my head, my heart flutters at the knowledge that in another blink of an eye she will be a woman.

2017

2017

February

Right now, when I think about my photography, and my life in general, I feel like this man:  standing next to the car staring at the map, with no idea where to go or what might be next.  

Road trip, 2016

Road trip, 2016

I'm pretty sure that the way I feel about all of it is completely irrelevant, and has no impact whatsoever on the outcome.  Life will send me whichever direction it chooses.  It's a time of flux and transition; a strange year, ripe with change.  I am at a point where I have reached the personal goals I set for myself, and have yet to decide on new ones.  My daughter is growing up before my eyes.  New opportunities, new directions, are coming into all of our lives, and it's a lot to process, probably too much to even try and process. 

I am looking at it, into it, trying to make some sense of my feelings, trying to seek out their source, and glean what wisdom I can from my intuition.  But really, I would probably have just as much luck with a fortune teller.  The wind is blowing.  There's no way to know what it will bring in, or take away, so the best thing to do is not worry and just roll with it.  Hope, and daily joy, lifts us up and carries us along.

All photographs Nikon F and Kodak Tri-x; all but the first one are from Georgetown, TX, during a Film Shooters Collective photowalk.

January, 1

I am not a writer.  But sometimes I pretend to be, when the mood strikes me, when something clicks and suddenly my head is filled:  a swirling vortex of words, like somebody left the door to the library open in a tornado.  It strikes suddenly, so I am racing for pencil and paper to get it all out, set the words free.  Sure as I begin, someone walks in and starts talking to me, and the squall evaporates.  It retreats as quickly as it arrives, back into the clouds from whence it came.  That is my process; my pen is not mighty.

These thoughts plowed into my brain as I lay next to my daughter in bed a few nights ago, sleep arriving, me not daring to move for fear of rousing her.  Trying to keep the storm intact, to keep other thoughts from clouding the already roaring downpour.  So as soon as her breathing became heavy, I turned on the light, started scribbling on the back of Poetry Magazine - the only blank page at hand.  How fitting, since in my youth I pretended wholeheartedly to be a writer, pouring out with unchecked enthusiasm so much angst and passionate emotion.  Into stories.  Into poetry.  Books of it, that I painstakingly typed and illustrated.  The last time I read it, years ago, I winced and laughed.  

What I take away from that time is a memory of my creative writing professor - one day, discussing tattoos, and me declaring my concern that when I got older I would look back at them with regret.  And her reply:  "I don't know, I think I would look at them and think 'wow, look how cool I was!'"  When I asked her if she missed being young (she was hardly old - gah - I hope my question was fueled by relevant and surrounding conversation, because this memory is painfully embarrassing) she said that she didn't, that she wouldn't relive any of it for anything, because it had all brought her to now, and each age was wonderful in itself.  So much wisdom.

And I also recall the reasons I quit writing.  The time in my life when I was criticized for keeping a journal.  The years that beat me down and caused me to shut my creative self away in the dark, since it clearly was not welcome in the company I was keeping.  Never underestimate the influence you have over others - good or bad - and never underestimate the power of those who have hurt you in the past to be able to hurt you still.  Never underestimate the consequences of denying your creative self a place in your day-to-day.

I am not a photographer, but sometimes I pretend to be, bringing into my lens all the weight of years of family history and human longing.  And so the cycle repeats.

January, 2 | Instant Film Project

I am a big fan of baking.  I love the ritual of preheating the oven, hauling out the mixer, preparing the sheets.  In fact, as much as I enjoy eating cookies and cakes, I'm pretty sure that I actually enjoy the process of making them more - the ingredients, the anticipation, the joy of creation.  The same goes with my photography (although baking definitely leaves the house warmer, and with a more delightful aroma).  What excites me is the seeing, the camera work, the chemical processes, and the anticipation.  The final product is nice, but I usually don't spend very much time with it.

Instant film is something new for me, and I'm still not entirely certain how I feel about it.  My daughter is a real enthusiast; I have to make sure to keep the freezer stocked with plenty of food for her Instax Mini.  This year, possibly out of boredom, possibly just to try something new, I decided that I would embark on a daily (almost daily) project with instant film.  At first, I thought I might make a photograph of my daughter every day.  But after two days, reality brought about something different, and I expect the project to continue to evolve and change as the year goes on; maybe it won't even make it the full year.  

Each day I have been photographing pieces of home, of my day to day.  What I am looking for is rhythm.  Life.  Normal.  Or, that's what the photographs are saying to me so far.  I know that if I continue to make the pictures only at home, that many scenes will repeat - but they will still be different, with a new light, on a new day.  The secret to ongoing happiness seems to be finding contentment in your day to day, so perhaps, just maybe, these photographs will reveal a little tiny bit of that peace.

The included photographs are from the first 2 weeks.  Sometimes I write on them, sometimes I don't.  And sometimes they are really, really blurry.