Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Overheard: not only was it a lie, it was deceitful. Creative Commons License

No matter how fast we run...

...we can't escape the past. Let me explain.

My partner, Kevin Brooks, tells wonderful personal stories. He recounts adventures from his childhood and from the lives of his family members. These stories are funny, poignant and more-or-less true. He urges me to tell the more-or-less true stories from my own life, but I resist. I tell him it's because I prefer the fiction and lies, myths and folktales I surround myself with on stage, but honestly? it's in part because the memories are hazy or seem just like little anecdotes and moreso because who I am now is rarely interested in looking back with nostalgia. But. But.

Who I used to be sneaks up on me and says, "Surprise! You thought I was gone, but here I am, I'm still part of you and I'm not going away! Aren't you glad?" Sometimes I cringe. ohgodithoughti'dgottenoverthat ther times I find myself welcoming in my OnceUponATime with open arms. Then I find myself telling stories.

This has happened recently in several different ways.

Social networking and the internet in general have forced me to allow the past in. Old friends, people I haven't seen or thought of in hundreds of years (so it seems) are now part of my regular life. This is a trite observation of course, I'm sure the same has happened to you. Some of these new-old relationships have become unexpected treasures that I never would have been given if I'd kept running forward. In these relationships we start out reminiscing but then find the present to be much more interesting.

While I'm enjoying the now-old relationships, what I find more striking is the gift of myself. It's as though I've recently become willing to let my old self back in, as though I've friended my own OnceUponATime. Two incidents in particular are bright examples.

A song came on the radio recently, you don't need to know what it was, and suddenly I remembered the boy I was madly in love with in seventh grade, the boy who didn't know I was alive. He was an older man; he was in eighth grade. My memory of him tells me he had dark hair and eyes and far too many pimples, but my 12-year -old self tells me he was sweet and quiet and had a voice that sent shivers down my spine. It doesn't matter that the lyrics now sound as corny as anything rejected by Hallmark; then it was the soundtrack to the school year and drifted down the halls whenever he walked by. I remember that 12 year old feeling with every molecule. That feeling still informs how I love, the deep physicality of the emotion, the way music shapes my heart. And I know that when I'm 80 I'll smile at the music I now think of as romantic.

My old self also came barreling home when I saw the movie Star Trek. Once upon a time I was a devoted sci-fi geek. Once upon a time I took in more sci-fi media that I now could name. Once upon a time I... well, I try not to think about those times too much these days. That kind of nostalgia might rot your teeth. But when I saw Star Trek every geeky molecule of my being came rushing to the surface at Warp 10 and I was incredibly happy. I leaned over to whisper in my friend's ear, "We're such nerds," and was relieved to see tears glistening in her eyes too. I saw that film not only with my friends but with generations of my own self. We had a wonderful time. When we left the theater I remembered and retained some of my young imagination and hope and determination that I could reach the stars. I'd forgotten some of it. It felt good to remember who I was, to realize I am almost who I wanted to be. So I'm nerd. So what.

Maybe Kevin is right and I should work some of these anecdotes into stories. For right now, though, I think it's enough that I'm walking side-by-side with my past selves, remembering who I used to be and letting them get used to who I have become.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mapping my life

Through various moments of synchronicity I find myself thinking about maps a lot these days. I've been reading a number of books that use maps as metaphors; I've been traveling and relying upon maps; I've been noting the landmarks in my life, both literal and symbolic.

To start with, I love paper maps. I love this conceptualization of data, the attempt to capture the lay-of-the-land in its infinite variety and texture with ink and flat paper. I marvel at historical maps and consider it nothing short of magic that maps have any accuracy at all. How do we know what that coastline really looks like, if we can't see it from above?

I remember as a child when I was taught to read a map in school and then practiced those skills with my parents as we drove across country, I imagined that if you looked closely enough, if you had a good enough magnifying glass, you could see everything in the free map we got from tripleA. The blue line there? Don't put your finger on it, you might accidentally crush us as we drove down the highway. Right here? There's a field with a cow and if you can't see it, I'll draw it for you. I destroyed countless maps by amending them with detailed illustrations of the things we passed as we crossed from Pennsylvania to Vermont to Alabama to Nevada and back home again. Or maybe they weren't destroyed, but improved.

Now I use all different kinds of mapping tools - paper maps, googlemaps, gps and more. Each has their own beauty and utility, but I think the kind of map I use the most often is deep and personal, hidden in my own history. Using that map, I would give directions like this:
  • Drive for awhile until you come to the place where I used to always see the old man walking his dog. He was kind to me. Turn left. What happened to them anyway?
  • When you think you're lost look behind you and you'll see me when I was a little girl wearing my favorite pink panda shirt. Wave to assure her she'll make it through her childhood even if it's hard.
  • Swerve quickly so you don't hit the tree I used to love to climb. It's gone now. Termites? Development?
  • Slow down as you drive past my old school. God, I hated that place.
  • And now turn around, retrace your path and you'll find yourself right here, right now, in this moment in my life.
The problem, of course, is that anyone who followed those directions would be hopelessly lost. Even I feel a bit lost at the moment and those directions use my own highly personal landmarks.

A more realistic kind of personal map would be one that traces the places I cover, a pheromone map where the worn routes I take regularly are more defined than the unknown paths in new colors, those that lead to the possible, the frightening, the new. Maybe that would serve only to depress me, displaying in black and white just how constrained I have become.

The kind of map I long for, of course, is the map to the future, but I can't seem to find that one. If I found it would I even know how to read the legend? Or would it just be a mostly blank sheet of paper with an "X" stating, "You are here. Now go."

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License
True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com.
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