Saturday, January 29, 2011


From Tom McNeal’s soon-to-be-published novel, “When Deena raised her head into the dappled sunlight to take the band off her ponytail and shake out her red hair, Judith said, ‘Your hair in that light looks like something someone should paint. Doesn’t she Willy, Doesn’t she look like she should be painted?’ Willy regards Deena and replies ‘Problem is, I can’t paint a lick. If I painted her it wouldn’t come out pretty at all. What you really need is somebody who’d do her justice.’”

I’ve never had my portrait painted, I couldn’t imagine sitting still that long and having someone study me so intensely. I can’t even bear to have my picture taken. When I have looked at the results in the past, I instantly recognized that the camera got it all wrong, I’m certain I look nothing like that. So instead I hide behind the camera capturing images, and sometimes people. T has started remarking on this behavior, trying to convince me that he will need to have my pictures for some unspecified time in the future when his memory starts to fade and he can no longer remember my face. But so far I’ve not been swayed. I just don’t feel that the camera does me justice, it can’t capture my essence and so the images I see are dull and flat and ugly. Those pictures are nothing I’d ever want to preserve.

Lately I’m starting to wonder if I’m living my life to the fullest, doing justice to the two arms, legs, brain and heart that I have been given. Often times I wake up in the morning and dread the day before me. I worry that when I’m older, my hair no longer shining in the dappled light, I will look back upon my life and not feel as if I’ve made a difference somehow. As if all of those years recommending books to children hadn’t mattered at all. I’m hoping this is going to change, this will be the year that breaks wide open. I have two major milestones coming in the next few months. Reaching them is starting to feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and I finally have a sense of clarity of what lies below, the direction my life is going to be taking. Maybe they are big changes, like packing everything up and moving to another country in order to help serve a community of people in need. Or maybe I’ll start smaller, trying to slow down and each day to live it to the fullest; leaving my desk for a bit of exercise or finding my way—occasionally—in front of the camera.

Growing up as an only child meant I was rarely challenged over what was fair, right, or just. One cookie left in the package? Mine. Never any argument about whose turn it was in the front seat of the car. I had sole responsibility at choosing the television show. And I never had to share a lap, a toy, a room, or attention, except with the dog. Now I watch three kids navigate the tricky landscape of siblinghood and wonder how anyone without brothers and sisters manages to establish a decent level of respect for the world around her. My boys hold regular tribunals to determine guilt and punishment; they set and sometimes even honor various boundaries; they battle over rights, ideas, perceived trespasses. On Christmas Eve T moved out of Boys' Room and into his own room and while the relationship between him and his next-in-age brother has improved in terms of the frequency of brotherly beatings, I think they've sacrificed a bit of closeness. No more whispered arguments after lights out; when one wakes up scared in the small hours there's no separate breath to reassure. I'm sad that this stage is over, that they have grown up that much more. But still, daytime is filled with regular fraternal explosions, both verbal and physical. They hold each other to the highest standards of justice like nobody else ever will again. And then, sometimes, they share a moment or two of ice cream, like any other friends.

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