Don’t you just love evening shadows? Legs up to your chin and thin, thin, thin. Even a dust-filled field between plantings and the thighs you got from your mom, magic.
Last week, nearly a year after I took this photo, same time of year, I’m driving to my mother-in-law’s on Camelback Road at the south edge of this stretch of dirt, heading east, the shadow of my car steady on the arrow-straight road ahead. And the shadow looks like….a monkey head. Maybe because I’d just been drawing, repeatedly, at Gbot’s request, pictures of “mong-ee,” his stuffed chimp, on the Magnadoodle. But my small SUV with its bulbous side mirrors as ears, elongated in the evening light and transferred to two dimensions on the macadam of Camelback Road, looks exactly like a monkey’s head.
“I am driving through life in a monkey ‘s head,” I thought. “I am looking out a big tinted pair of monkey eyes. I just never knew it.”
What do I look like, to the outside world? It is easy not to put on lipstick. To skip the five-minute blow-dry session. Surely, everyone knows I am beautiful on the inside?
It’s Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” all over again, where people chained in a cave knowing nothing but shadows cast on the cave walls wouldn’t recognize reality–the forms that cast the shadows–if they saw it. But what percentage of reality is the form that casts the shadow? What’s inside, photon-permeable, is no less real.
Every once in a while you get a reminder that the world sees a projection of you–not what you feel you are, not what you know you are, not what your mother tells you you are. My sister told me a few years back that she caught sight of her reflection in a store window and was horrified by her own slouch. She has made a point to sit up straight ever since.
In her ridiculously insightful guide to the nonfiction writing, The Situation and the Story, Vivian Gornick reiterates the necessity of memoirists to know their “persona.” “These writers might not “know” themselves–that is, have no more self-knowledge than the rest of us–but in each case–and this is crucial–they know who they are at the moment of writing. They know they are there to clarify in relation to the subject in hand–and on this obligation they deliver….”1
Maybe that is what I am looking for, from five to six. Someone who knows who she is, someone who isn’t an inexpert mother, a slacker housekeeper, a whiny daughter, an exasperated daughter-in-law, a completely cowardly murderer of spiders and sewer bugs. The me who doesn’t slouch. I am racing away from the sun in a giant monkey head, looking out unblinking monkey eyes, both limited and empowered by the restrictions imposed by my carapace. Catch me if you can.
Are you, on the inside, who you are on the outside?
1 Gornick, Vivian. The Situation and the Story, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, NY 2001, p. 30.