Monday, July 13, 2009

When Did I Forget to be Brave?

We had dinner last night with old friends, the kind of friends where the light lingers until it becomes night, when the wine bottles are emptied long before the conversations are done, when the talking continues past even after the mosquitoes have given up and gone to sleep. A perfect summer evening. So why did I end up crying as I said my good-byes? Was it just because I miss my friends and was sad to leave? Or was it because somewhere between the home grown tomatoes, mozzarella and basil and the seemingly endless bowl of cherries, I realized I was soaking up more than good food, drink and friends. What brought tears to my eyes, was this - I realized I had reconnected with the oldest friend I had. Someone I really enjoy and admire and who I used to look up to for her bravery. Who did I find? Myself.

As a mother of three young children, I've lost my artistic bravery. The process started slowly. People who I used to have passionate discussions about art stopped talking to me about anything other than being a mother. It was different for my husband, who continued to be seen and treated as a writer.

Over the last almost ten years, my artistic bravery has gotten misplaced between the unfolded laundry, the carpooling to music lessons and camp. It has fallen between the cracks of doing what I have to do to put food on the table and what really feeds my purpose. Some people look for their mojo when they hit my age. Me, I just want to learn what it is to be brave again. And to never trade in that bravery again.

What a luxury it was to sit on a flagstone patio surrounded by such warm, creative and generous people and understand that this is where I belong, this is where I left myself about 5 years ago. The kids were happily playing with one another, rediscovering each other. The conversation among the adults around the table swung from the personal - my father's death, my friend's nephew's illness, school choices and how big our children had grown - to the transcendence of art - Simone Forti, Allen Ginsberg, Merce Cunningham, Picasso's older works and so much more - people came and went, new people arrived and glasses were cleaned, plates filled and the talk of art continued.

We laughed about good-byes, about the difficulty in saying good-bye to family, to parties, to friends. We watched a video Allen Ginsberg made in the 1980's, titled "Household Affairs." The film was like a meditation to good-bye, the camera rarely moving, but allowing the visitors to enter into the space, the tender way Ginsberg preserved and archived the everyday movements of drinking coffee and cooking hamburgers, snow on Lower East Side fire escape landings and headlines from the New York Times.

I used to be brave. I used to take risks with my artistic self. I was an actress. I left the safety of my parents and moved first to Chicago and then to NYC. I switched to writing and to studying a remote body-awareness practice while my theater friends were all doing TV. I left NYC to pursue a graduate degree at Naropa University.

I kept up my writing for about three years into my early mothering, writing at night at my computer with first my oldest and then the twins nursing at my breasts. I co-wrote two screenplays and authored a collection of essays and produced quite a bit of work. But somewhere when the twins turned two, the balance between making a viable living and being an artist couldn't be sustained. My writing partner, also the mother of three children and including one the same age as my twins, had to go back to work full-time just when we had finished our second screenplay.

Don't get me wrong. I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to take my creative skills and translate them into a career, into working with good and creative people dedicated to impacting the world in a positive way. I want to teach my children that it is a good thing to know how to function in the world. I'm glad I've provided a strong example of woman firmly in the world. But in the slippery midsts of fulfilling family responsibilities, and promoting other people's dreams, I traded in my bravery for something else that leaves my mouth dry.

But last night, in that garden with dear, dear friends who first and only knew me as a writer, singer and performer, that old friend emerged with a surprising ease and I suppose I just didn't realize how much I missed those parts I had neatly categorized into my life before motherhood.

The only time I've felt brave in the past 5 years was when I went ziplining in Costa Rica this past December. Swooshing across the top of a rain forest, I discovered I love the feeling of standing on the brink. Today, I'm at a different kind of brink in my life where bravery seems to be the road best taken. And I wonder, as I stand on this brink, what bravery will look and feel like. What does it mean to be brave? I have no idea who I will be, but if I'm anything like the woman in the garden from last night, I think I will be very pleased.

Who are you when you are your most brave? To the brink and beyond!

1 comment:

hilary said...

This was moving to me, not because of the children, but because of past bravery and being able to recover it. I am inspired by your writing this; I don't walk in your shoes, but could relate. Thanks for sharing.