Who Am I, Now?

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I had a fleeting thought the other day as I was sitting in my favorite chair in my favorite room. I was looking at the bookcase on the other side of the room – the one that holds the books I currently refer to when I am ready to learn a little more about LightRoom or have a question about my camera or need to identify a wildflower. Along with those types of reference books, I also have the books from my studies, the ones that informed my professional identity and I used to inform my teaching. I still enjoy picking some of them up and reading a page or two – the books that read like poetry as they explain human development or theories of therapy. Most of them, however, are pretty dusty.

I had a fleeting thought that I could be ready to get rid of them. In that fleeting second I felt freed from the pining that I have had over who I once was, or maybe who I could have been. I am enjoying retirement and have no desire to work again, in any role, not even volunteering. My miss-firing nervous system won’t allow it. Even though I have the head and heart for helping people, my body doesn’t allow for even a few hours of sustained work because of chronic pain and fatigue. But sometimes I still feel that empty, hollow place deep within my soul that doesn’t want to lose what I once had, who I once was.

Those books are a symbol of who I am, what I value, what I believe in. They have my back when I stand up and say, I Am. These books are very important to me. I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, formed my initial identity in the 60’s and 70’s. In those growing up years I frequently heard my mother say, “Little girls should be seen and not heard.” From my father, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Pretty crippling messages to me, someone who loved learning and playing school when I wasn’t in school. It is hard to process and retain learning in memory if it can’t be spoken and rehearsed.

As I grew older my most exciting days were when I went shopping for school supplies and could pick up my text books. I started reading them before school started because I just couldn’t wait. Maybe I loved school and textbooks because I thought I would learn something important enough to finally be heard, or maybe – just maybe know what I was talking about. I earned degrees and got jobs that fulfilled my desire to be someone who made a difference in the lives of others. I didn’t start working in “real” jobs until I was well into my 30’s and when I turned 60, I told people I wanted to work forever. I loved my work and the continued learning as I read new books.

If I box up my professional books and ship them out, will I loose who I am? Will I become a has been? Will I forget that I once knew a lot about human development, individual and family therapy, group process, teaching and curriculum design? Does it really matter that the information I once learned and used may no longer be relevant to the life I am living?

I feel myself in the middle of a shift – what is called development in childhood, then maturing in adulthood, but now feels like accepting the aging process. These shifts in personal identity and ways of relating to others don’t happen quickly. When they involve our core personality characteristics they take some time. We feel unsettled for a few months as we ask the who-are-we and what-does-it-mean questions.

Getting rid of all of my professional books now feels premature (would preaging mean the same?) Writing helps me think through my life-cycle tasks as I form the questions I need to ask. The take-away for me today is that I want to keep some of my books, keep them like the keepsakes from my travels and my early years of parenting. Seeing these books every day gives me great joy as I remember traveling down that path of my life’s journey – a journey that was rewarding and exciting.

When I return to Michigan in the spring I think I will do another culling, keeping the books that most represent my life’s work and my personal identity. Something like the culling out of old family photos completed a couple of years ago. I think I need to take time to hold each book, reflect on it, pass judgement, and maybe shed a tear or two. It kind of feels like another of those minor rites of passage that rids life of the baggage that slows me down, making me freer to live my life to its fullest, as I am, into my future. I like to travel light.

 

Can You Tell Me Who I Am?

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Sherry Galey did a post where she shows the results of some post-editing on a photo, showing the before and after. I commented that I liked the result – that she had made it look like her. I don’t know Sherry well at all, but I have started to get a feel for who she is through following her blog. Sherry and I exchanged comments and it got me thinking.

I have heard people say that when someone says something about another person it says more about the speaker than the person being talked about. Is the same true for our posts. I do some posts that are about me – where I deliberately tell you about my experiences and my thoughts, my struggles and my triumphs, my pains and my joys. I always feel a bit of anxiety when I click that publish button when I do these posts. I question whether I want to tell you that much about me. If I let you see the real me, what will you do with it?

Do all of my other posts reflect who I am as well? I have chosen to follow a lot of photography blogs because this is an old interest that is freshly budding in me. And I like to post my photography and usually a few lines, a story, to go with it. I didn’t know I liked to tell stories until my doctor mentioned that he always likes to hear my stories. I didn’t think I was telling stories – I was just telling him about my fun experiences.

Maybe what we post tells people a whole lot about who we are. The brilliant people behind the scenes at Word Press are continually helping us think about how to set up our blog in a way that represents who we are and what we want to accomplish. In the same way, what we post not only presents what interests us, but also how we make sense of the world. We tell people how we make meaning of what we hear and see and think, and it is meaning-making that defines us.

All writers know that the written word represents the writer’s interpretation of his/her world. So my stories are telling you how I see the world. Does not our photographs do the same? Before the age of photography, paintings were commissioned to present reality, to record history. Now photography is used to record these same types of reality. Did not the discipline of science teach us that we can be objective – removed so that the scientist only records what is objective – not our subjective?

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More recent thinking brings objectivity into question. Our photos can never be the totally objective portrayal of reality. By the time we post them, we have already imposed our subjective choice of what to photograph and how we frame it. I do some post-editing – even as I tell myself that I am only attempting to make the photograph more true to what I really see. Chew on that one for a few minutes. I might change color a little bit, or clarity, light, dark, shadows, and of course focus of interest with cropping. I tell myself that I am correcting errors from camera processing or from my lack of skill in getting correct settings. Am I also not imposing my beliefs about what reality should look like? If I am doing this, then I am telling you how I see the world (or want to see the world) as much as I am showing you how my lens sees the world. I am showing you me, one world image at a time.

And when I add narrative, I am showing you me one sentence at a time. But that is a post I will leave to the writers.  I have shown you enough of me already – and I fear that showing you the depths of my thinking will bore you. For those of you who made it this far, I send you my deep gratitude. Now I think I’ll go back and read some of my previous posts to find out who I really am. A new take on reflecting on my belly button.

If you want to follow up on some of the WP tips on creating nice blogs here are some links I found useful:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/visualbranding/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/about-page-201-the-meat-grinder/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/11/28/aboutpage/

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Few of My Favorite Things – Books

When I read about this WordPress Challenge I was intrigued by the thought of cherished objects. I have lived many years and have accumulated many objects that represent my relationships to others and experiences that have shaped who I believe I am. I enjoy these objects because when I look at them I am reminded of people who I have known, places I have been, things I have accomplished – but I have never used the term cherished object to describe them so this got me thinking about what a cherished object would be.

For me an object is just an object – I try not to be too attached to them because things get broken or lost or stolen. I learned this when my kids were little and we were financially struggling. I didn’t have a lot of nice things but had a pretty little glass something-or-other that I really liked – maybe even cherished. I don’t remember now what it was or where it came from. But it got broke – by one of the kids – by accident. And I cried. I cried because I couldn’t have anything nice in the house. This child felt badly, she cried, and I didn’t want her to carry guilt because deep down I realized that it was just an object and really didn’t matter in the big picture of life. This child was much more important, was much more beautiful than a pretty “whatever.”

I have also found that some objects that were important to me become less important – I can delegate them to a box in the basement or, even better, dispose of them. That part of my life is over or whatever that object represented isn’t as important. And sometimes this act becomes symbolic of the emotional struggle that comes with life transitions. Most recently this has happened with books.

I love books – in fact probably the most memorable birthday gift was a book given to me by Aunt Bernice when I turned 12 – going into 6th grade. It was a real book, not a Little Golden Book that I had lots of. This was a library bound type book – I think the name of it was Strawberry Girl. I put it on the shelf of the two-shelf bookcase I had in my room and I felt important. I don’t know what the reality was, but the picture in my memory is that it was the only book in the bookcase – any others that might have been there were removed either at the time or in my memory.

I don’t know what happened to that book but many books have replaced it. When we built our new house I made sure there were enough built-in bookcases. For my books. I don’t collect books so I didn’t need bookcases on every wall and in every room. Instead I needed just enough bookcases to store the books I enjoy and are memories of my life. And I had bookcases at work – with professional books that I used for reference and for my teaching and to tell people who I am.

You can tell who I am by looking at my bookcases. Don’t bother looking for my work bookcases because I had to empty them when I retired – more about that later. At home you can see the type of fiction I like to read by the books I have saved – the ones that I might get around to reading again some day because they were good, well-written stories.

Fiction

And of course there is a shelf of books that I haven’t gotten to, yet. Below the books I haven’t read yet is a shelf of children’s books that have entertained the child within me or have connected me to grandchildren.

Children’s Books

I have a shelf of children’s books in the basement that we read to our children and grandchildren. I picked out the ones we liked the best and I’ll let children and grandchildren take what they want and then give the rest to charity. They aren’t important to my life any more.

I have a shelf with my quilting books, and decorating books that I collected when we built the house. I’ll probably give the decorating books away soon because I like my home and won’t be making changes for a long time. These decorating books aren’t cherished because they aren’t an important part of my identity. I used them to create the home that does reflect who I am and the family I am a part of.

I have a place for books that represent and nurture my religious faith. Other shelves hold books about fibromyalgia, from and about places I have traveled to, and books on plants and landscaping. My bookcases also hold pictures of people who are important to my husband and me, both past and present. I guess I cherish these, because of the relationships they represent. I change them sometimes – as relationships change.

Gardening & Family

Many of my most cherished books have been my professional books. I loved my work, and what I did as a therapist and a college professor was closely tied to books – I used them all the time. Faculty have books – lots of them. And when people visit their office or cubical they look at their books. I did when I was a college student and visitors to my office looked at my books to find out who I was – because the books I had on my selves defined my professional interest and my areas of knowledge.

When it was time for me to retire it took several passes to decided which books to sell, which to give away, and which ones I needed/wanted to keep. It took several weeks because I was breaking down a part of my identity. In a way I was sorting out who I was and who I would still be after I retired. I ended up keeping only those books that had shaped my thinking and impacted on my professional activities. These were the books that were most interesting and written by people who had a major impact in their field. They are the books that I have put in the bookcase across from where I sit in my reading room.

Professional Books

I have also placed items on these shelves that remind me of who I was and what I did during those years. The items in these bookcases have helped me transition into living a life that is different because of the impact of having fibromyalgia and growing older. They are cherished because of the memories they evoke of fun times, professional relationships, professional accomplishments, and because they are a part of who I was and who I still am.

My bookcases are going to need some work soon. I am reinventing myself and will need to make room for my new interests. I have started buying photography books. Actually I started buying books of photography a long time ago because somewhere deep down I was inspired by how pictures could tell stories or capture beauty.

Beginning of Photography Collection

I’ve been thinking that I might have to clear out some of those professional books, the ones that aren’t so important, to make room for the books I’ve been buying on how to use my new camera and how to make good images. I’m excited about the changes that are taking place in my life now that I have the time to travel and a new reason to go. And my cherished books reflect those changes.

Check out this Weekly Writing Challenge at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/weekly-writing-challenge-a-few-of-my-favorite-things/